It’s ironic. A few years ago when my son was six years old, like most other kids his age he asked me if he could download Minecraft. My response? No way – it’s far too addictive.
To his credit, my son obeyed my wishes and did not download Minecraft. Phew, I’d dodged a bullet – or so I thought.
What I didn’t take into consideration was that he was in year one at “big school” now, and he was spending much of his time in an environment that I (as his mother) had little control over. My son had formed a strong friendship with another boy in his class at school, who soon introduced him to the world of Pokémon.
The students at the school were allowed to use the computers in the library during lunch breaks, and it was during this time that the Pokémon obsession began. In what seemed like no time at all, my son went from not knowing what Pokémon was, to being completely consumed by this game.
If you’re aware of Pokémon, you’ll know that it’s very complex. There seem to be a million different characters who evolve into even more characters. Each one has different abilities or ‘attacks’ and there are several different regions. There are lots of battles going on, and you need to understand the powers of each individual Pokémon so that you can help them win your battles.
If that last paragraph seems confusing to you don’t worry, you’re in good company! In fact Pokémon has its own language, and that language seemed to be all that was escaping from my son’s mouth since his introduction to this game.
While my son was becoming consumed with Pokémon, I was going about my busy life as a parent – working (both paid and unpaid), studying, training for my black belt in karate, ferrying the kids around to their extra-curricular activities…basically I was a typical parent living a hectic life.
Pretty soon it became apparent that my son and I were growing apart. Not surprising when you consider we were speaking different languages. Not only did I not know a thing about Pokémon or its language, but I really didn’t care to learn.
Having a simple conversation with my son at this point was increasingly difficult. He wasn’t listening to me – VERY frustrating as a parent! It was hard to tell if he genuinely couldn’t hear me or if he was choosing to ignore me (selective hearing perhaps?) but either way the result was the same. I was raising my voice more and more, and we were arguing more than I care to admit.
The quality of our conversations deteriorated as the barrier between us grew. I only bothered to talk to my son to tell him what to do, as having any sort of meaningful conversation was very difficult. Not exactly the sort of relationship you want to have with your children!
I should note here that at no time was I allowing my son to play Pokémon games all day every day – which I’m sure he would have happily done otherwise. He had the choice of playing these games on his Nintendo 3DS or a computer, watching it on TV, or reading the books. However even when he wasn’t actively playing or watching the game it was consuming his mind. It was all he thought about and all he wanted to talk about.
When it was time to turn off the game it was also a nightmare – depending on the day/time his face would turn bright red, he’d yell and scream or cry, and sometimes he’d even form a fist as if he were going to get violent. Scary stuff.
It all came to a head one day when we were walking to school together. Yet again I was trying to talk to my son, and yet again he was ignoring me, imagining he was in a Pokémon battle – complete with sound effects and all.
After about my fifth attempt at a conversation something inside of me just snapped. I was the one yelling and screaming now at my son out of complete and utter frustration – in an otherwise quiet and peaceful street, mind you! My son must have been overcome by embarrassment but I didn’t care, and couldn’t control myself at that point anyway. I’d reached breaking point and lost control.
Of course after the noise pollution I’d created I did what any emotional parent would have done; I burst into tears. I couldn’t wait to get to school already – no doubt my son felt the same!
Looking back on it now, I’m glad this horrible day came when it did. Hitting rock bottom was what I needed to take a step back and realise that somehow I’d gone from what I considered a pretty competent parent, to a parent who had no idea what to do. It was on this day that I realised I’d lost my relationship with my son, and that I wasn’t willing to continue like this. No matter what it would take, I decided I would get my son back.
As you can imagine, life improved from that point. After some professional help, getting lost in a huge amount of research, sorting through useless information to find the gold nuggets I needed, and even some meditation, I found a better way to communicate with my son.
It took a little while and a lot of pain, but the result was so worth it. Not only did my son return to his prior self (still playing Pokémon to an extent but nowhere near as excessively or obsessively as before), but we now have a much closer relationship than we ever had before. The change was incredible and very welcome, not just for me but for the whole family.
After a while I realised how much I had learned from this experience, and that I could share what I learned with other parents to prevent them from suffering as my family and I had done. Since then I’ve immersed myself in the topic of cyber safety and have come up with an informational product that complements Social Judo’s brilliant software perfectly.
To find out more please visit my site at http://childrenandtechnology.com or register for my next live webinar at https://www.peacefuldigitalparenting.com/webinar-registration
Ruth Dearing is the founder of Children and Technology, a public speaker, international best-selling author of “How To Keep Your Children Safe Online…And Put An End To Internet Addiction”, and a mother of two. Her expertise and passion lies in helping parents keep their children safe online.