My 7 year old son has always been, let’s say, creative. And smart. But this has played out over his lifetime as determined and sneaky. Like many kids today, he loves video games. I have tried over the years to place limits on his usage, but he manages to find a way around my rules and limits, which ends up with consequences for him. A year or two ago, I got fed up with all three of my kids’ obsession with hand-held devices, and I purchased a locked box to store them in. I controlled the lock and only gave them screen time when I deemed it was appropriate. This worked fairly well, but ONLY because they physically did not have access to the devices, NOT because they were learning how to live with technology and make good choices for themselves. Brady’s DS stayed in the locked box for such long periods of time that he pretty much forgot about it completely. Last week, he was home sick from school and I got the DS out of the box for him to play with while he was not feeling well. Suddenly, he was asking for it constantly whenever he had at least two minutes of down time.
After talking with a good friend, I came to some very important realizations. I have always tried to live my life from a place of abundance. This mindset normally allows me to have a very positive outlook on most things in life. But locking these devices and preventing my kids from having access to them was teaching them to live their lives from a place of scarcity. This is opposite from how I want them to live. In addition, one thing I realized when I went through my own parent coaching two years ago is that perhaps my biggest and clearest goal as a parent is to raise my children to become independent adults. And the coaching work that I did made it clear to me that I want to make parenting decisions that are in alignment with that goal. From the time our children are born, every step of the way our kids are moving towards adulthood. Locking the devices in a box and only allowing them access to them when I decided was not moving them closer to becoming independent adults.
So I decided to have a conversation with Brady last week. I told him that I have noticed how much he is growing up and that I have been wondering if he is ready to handle some increased responsibility and increased freedom. He was very curious what I was talking about. I told him I thought we might try to stop locking the DS in the lockbox and asked if he was ready for that. He enthusiastically declared that he was ready! So then we talked about how to be mature and responsible if he has access to his DS if we leave it in the drawer. It was not ok for him to sneak it when he is not supposed to, and he has to make good choices.
This led us into a great conversation about how to live a healthy life and what that looks like. Each day, before screens, he needs to do his homework and chores (if he has either), he needs to play outside or do something fun that doesn’t include screens and/or play with friends. He needs to make healthy eating choices, and do some reading. At this point, if he does all those things every day, he will be living a very good, healthy life! (And he will be moving one step closer to learning how to be a successful, independent adult, which as you recall, is one of my highest parenting goals.) He was completely ready to accept the challenge.
We started last Monday morning. The DS has remained in the drawer ever since and he has been amazingly responsible and ethical. He and his friend spent most afternoons after school last week trying in their little 7-year-old-ways to figure out how to structure their time together to get their homework done and play outside together and still squeeze in some DS time at the end of it all. But each day when they had these “planning sessions” without him even knowing I was listening, he continued to focus on not even trying to get the DS out until he could say he did all those other things. And his friend supported him in this mission. And several times, I pointed out what good choices he has been making and how proud I have been of him. I told him that he was certainly right when he said he was ready for the increased responsibility. It was a fabulous week!
Reflecting back on last week with Brady, I realize that this plan feels good and is working so well because it is in complete alignment with my values and goals (preparing my kids for independence and living from a place of abundance). I know that I locked up the devices out of frustration and fear (that they would become screen junkies). But talking it through with a friend and getting in alignment with my values helped me to move us in a very positive, productive direction. Not only that, but giving him this “supported freedom” has resulted in him experiencing success with being responsible and has allowed us many opportunities to bond over his great choices. He is feeling very confident about himself and I am feeling very proud of my boy.
It is still amazing (and at the same time not surprising at all) that a shift of perspective and alignment with my values can result in such a dramatic and positive change in our family. We are the best parents that we can be when we are in alignment with our values and see our children for the amazing little beings they are.