I knew something had to change, but I wasn’t sure I had the strength to do it.
Despite our stringent screen-time limits, my 10-year-old son’s attitude made me want to pull my hair out. At first I didn’t understand it. He rarely gets into trouble at school, and he seems respectful and kind around others.
But at home, it was as if we had different kid. And I began seeing a pattern — it was always worse after playing video games.
Before: Screen Time Rules
For transparency’s sake, here were our rules:
- Video game time limited to 45 minutes on weekdays, 1.5 hours on weekends.
- No game rated higher than E10.
- Playing games on a handheld device such as a phone or DS counted toward time.
- (TV is not an issue since they rarely watch non-sports television programming anyway.)
Most of the video games included Minecraft and Plants v. Zombies. Occasionally they played approved games on old phones of ours, fitted with the Kids Place app to restrict games to only ones we approved.
As you can see, it’s not as if their screen time bordered on excess.
But still… the attitude.
Why I Hesitated to Eliminate Video Games
I bucked at the thought of taking away video games on weekdays for several reasons. One, I knew my son used it to unwind after school. He and I have similar personalities and I totally get needing decompression time. Two, I look forward to that quiet time when my kids aren’t fussing with one another (usually after school) and I can relax a bit. Totally selfish, but I’m being honest. Three, yes, I admit it: I feared his backlash. I knew that taking this big step would create a withdrawal of sorts, not unlike an addict giving up his drug of choice.
For me, I prayed about it and knew this was a matter of obeying God for this heart issue with my son.
Breaking the News
After I made the decision, I told my son in the gentlest way that starting the next week, he and his sister would not play video games on weekdays. I told him several days ahead of time so he would have time to mentally adjust to the new rules and prepare.
He wasn’t happy, but because the rules did not take effect immediately, the backlash wasn’t as bad as I feared.
The First Week
The first day of no video games was the worst. I planned a family bike ride, which probably wasn’t the best of ideas since my son has always hated to ride bikes. But after we returned, he and his sister played in the yard until dark. I considered the evening a success.
Each day after showed improvement. He discovered the trampoline and began going outside as soon as he returned home from school. The first week he also asked if he could type on the computer. I hesitated but agreed. The next thing I knew, he printed a handbook he wrote on his own: “How to Play Minecraft.” To say he impressed me would be an understatement. I told him how proud I was that he created such a remarkable product and that he diverted his interest in video games to something productive — writing.
After only a few days, I noticed a dramatic — remarkable even — change in his attitude. This is not an exaggeration when I say, it was like I had a different kid. I praised him every time I noticed. At first, he rebuffed my praise, knowing that his good attitude probably sealed into permanence the no-video-games-on-weekdays experiment. But I think a part of him saw a change, too, and he began enjoying the new version of himself as much as I did.
A few weeks into our new policy, I sat on the back porch and he came to sit beside me. He expressed how he agreed with me, that the video games definitely affected his attitude. But, he really didn’t think playing on his phone had the same effect as the Xbox. He asked me, then, to consider allowing him use of the phone for 30 minutes on weekdays.
Under normal circumstances I would have stood my ground, but I could sense there might be more at stake here than my rules. I had a choice. I could stand firm or I could recognize the maturity it took for him to evaluate himself and his tendencies and to come to me with a suggestion. After all, I only have control over his choices for a few more years. I’m more interested in training him in self-control for the long-term, far after he’s not in my home.
I agreed to his proposal with one condition: if I saw the attitude return, he would lose the privilege.
A Respectable Young Man Emerging
A few weeks into our new arrangement, I’ve watched him carefully. His attitude has stayed good for the most part, and he purposefully governs himself after his phone time is up.
Even on weekdays when he plays video games, he has learned to go straight outside to jump on the trampoline after his time has ended. He knows now that if he isn’t able to control his attitude, he will lose the privilege completely.
Now don’t get me wrong. He’s still a 10-year-old boy. He isn’t perfect. And we still have our conflicts.
But it’s nothing like before. We have deep conversations. He listens to me. I listen to him. A mutual respect has emerged — a maturity that makes me proud and makes me sad at the same time. My little boy is growing up. If it takes making some tough decisions to help him become the man God created him to be, that’s a sacrifice I’ll make.
As an aside, during this time I was also reading Mother and Son: The Respect Effect, which I highly recommend to moms of sons of all ages. And if you’re wondering about my daughter, well, she can take or leave video games and her attitude doesn’t change when she plays the same games as her brother. This proves that every kid is different and every family is different. I urge everyone to prayerfully consider their choices because there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to video games and screen time. I simply share my experience in case you’re one of the moms who is pulling her hair out over video games, too.