One Christmas, a close friend and his wife purchased the newest Wii for their 8 year old son. As an adopted uncle, I frequented their house enough to be a part of some great family moments and this was one of them. It was a family learning to deal with addiction.
Given that their son had a full week and a half free from school and a new Wii console, you could imagine the amount of time spent in front of the TV. Ordinarily he was a voracious reader, but now he had a taste for pixel pie.
After a few days my friends noticed his inability to turn off the Wii without having a temper tantrum. A monster was growing inside their child. An addiction was being born right before their eyes. Being astute, open and honest parents, they recognized their folly of allowing too much game time too fast all in a compressed period of time. They rallied and came up with a plan.
First, they apologized to their son and explained to him what they saw happening to him. He was restless if he wasn’t playing, exhausted after playing, not sleeping well, ignoring other gifts, toys and books that he ordinarily would have enjoyed. Lastly, he was not going outside to enjoy other activities that he had an interest in like skiing, building snowmen or having a snowball fight with his friends.
Second, they shared their plan as to how they would wean him off playing video games as often, because he was going back to school in a few days. He would get thirty minutes of media time (computer, TV or Wii) everyday after school and an hour on Saturday and Sunday. They used a timer right on top of the TV and it sounded a tone for everyone to hear when media time was over.
Lastly, they gave him an opportunity to negotiate and earn more media time as he hit certain milestones. Consistency in homework completion, consistency of good grades, consistency in completing chores, consistency in a good attitude and consistency of showing he had control over work time versus play time.
Less than a year after this episode, my friend confessed to me a prideful moment in his son’s development. He said, “the other day he came up to me as if he were a lawyer ready to present a case. He requested that his mother and I sit down and hear him out about his media time. When we gathered after dinner for ‘the meeting’, he requested an extra 30 minutes of media time due to his consistency in grades, behavior, homework, etc. We countered with 5 more minutes of media time and then he countered with 15 minutes. We were so proud of his argument and follow through that we gave him the full extra 30 minutes on weekends provided he was not playing a sport.”
It was an amazing time for me to watch how organized, open and honest they were with their son and it left quite an impression on me, even 5 years later. Imagine the pride they must have felt watching their child develop into a disciplined, logical negotiator after being a temper tantrum-filled, addicted 8 year old. Children can, will and do respond to proper and balanced guidance in some of the toughest of circumstances when given the chance.