This is what an Xbox looks like after it’s been dropped from a first floor window. It happened a year ago and it wasn’t my finest parenting moment. In fact, it was the culmination of years of frustration at the grip of computer gaming on my sons – who were then aged 15 and 13 – and my failure to instill in them what I considered to be a healthy approach to screen-time.
Computer gaming – and our inability to regulate the amount of time they spent on it – seemed to be the cause of almost all our family arguments; homework was being rushed; activities like reading and music were being jettisoned; boys weren’t coming for meals when they were ready; bedtimes were frought; and most of all, the way we were all speaking to each other was horrible.
I’d tried all sorts of systems to agree when screen-time would end: limiting hours; conditionality on behaviour; ‘earning’ screen-time by completing household chores. None of these schemes worked. They either ended in negotions about interpetrations of the rules or in lack of follow-through by one parent or the other – usually when exhausted or solo-parenting.
On this particular occasion, I’d gone through all the stages of persuasion, cajoling and threats, and eventually reached the desperate point of turning the Wifi off completely at about 11 o’clock at night. That’s when eldest son lost it – quickly followed by me sending the Xbox into flight.
It was terrible. Everyone was angry and very upset. Eldest son tried to leave home. He didn’t, but the next week or so were tense and miserable. Eventually, I was able to apologise for destroying what had been a Christmas present a few years earlier, but also to say I wasn’t sorry the Xbox had gone. It had stopped being a source of fun – and needed to be gone.
Once the initial anger and hurt had passed, eldest son conceded that life was better without the Xbox – at least until after his GCSEs, he was OK for it to be gone.
After I posted about this episode on Facebook, it became clear my extreme act of frustration had struck a chord. I was inundated with supportive comments from friends. Here are just a few of them:
“Well done for following through!”
“Well done!! Blimey I bet he will listen next time!!”
“Know that feeling. I did it with a phone which I threw out of a car window“
“I salute you Chris!“
“Viva the Holt Manoevre.”
“You could be starting something here, Chris,”
So many people got in touch, I was asked to write about it for a national newspaper. I said “no”, not wanting to add fuel to the fire of family discord. But a year on, things are more harmonious in the Holt household and – with eldest son’s permission – I can write about the experience, especially as we now have an Xbox in the house once again. Youngest son saved up to buy a new one a couple of months ago – and was allowed to do so on the strict understanding that screen-time was sensibly self-managed and if it became a source of conflict, the Xbox would be sold.
From my point of view, ‘The Return of the Xbox’ has been interesting. Generally, the boys have been much better at self-regulating. Both seem to be staying on top of school work, enjoying their other interests and seeing friends; youngest son reliably switches off well before bedtime. But there have been a few mealtimes when eating together seemed less important (to the boys) than finishing a game.
For a while, eldest son’s need to play Fifa seemed once again to be affecting family life; the incompleted chores were mounting; the rows were beginning; on one occasion the Xbox had to be removed and the resulting angry storm weathered (with little help from yoga-breath patience and going out for a walk).
But recently all that stopped. Eldest son decided, without any prompting from us, to stop playing Fifa and sell his team, “because it was putting me in a bad mood”.
This feels like a huge milestone; it shows he is able to be self-aware, make a choice to do something for his longer-term benefit and put it into action without any parental involvement. It is part of a significant transition from child to adult – and, for us, a transition, to a different mode of parenting. Complusion is no longer an option with a young man of 16 and a half.
In other matters too, like school work, going out, having friends over, staying out late, the last eight months or so have seen some relinquishing of the parental reins. Little step by little step, trusting him to know how to keep himself safe, make sensible decisions, and keep us in the loop. It’s not easy to let go, knowing how vulnerable children and young people are; locally we know young people who have been stabbed or sexually assaulted.
I’m grateful to know my kids’ friends – and some of their parents – and to be able to offer our home as a tolerant and safe place for them to hang out. I’ve cut back some work commitments to enable me to be more regularly at home, not just to cook meals, but to be around for a chat. I realise I am lucky to be able to do this for a while.
The rewards, when they come, are wonderful. Sitting in the kitchen with eldest son and a couple of friends the other day, I almost dissolved into tears there and then, when he said, out of nowhere, “I have a great relationship with my mum.”
I’ve been teaching yoga since my kids were very little – and it’s kept me mostly sane along the way. The yoga I teach is informed by all my life experiences – seeking a little calm and insight along the way. Visit yogawithchris.co.uk to find out more about my classes, workshops and weekend retreats.