Limits

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Vlastula: http://flickr.com/photos/vlastula/300102949

Photo by Vlastula

We built the boy his own computer over the winter break. Cobbled together from pieces donated by friends, bought on sale, and all assembled with a fair bit of elbow grease, it’s a fairly beefy Minecraft machine, and it plays his new favorite game, BeamNG.drive.

He’s been getting up in the mornings and going straight to the computer. He can’t log in—I know the password, I am the gatekeeper—but I’m fine with him playing a little before school, so I’ll groggily unlock it for him, and then go make coffee, lunches, etc.

Last Wednesday, Liam unloaded a hefty piece of straw onto the camel and broke its back. I told him it was time to get ready for school and he ignored me. I asked a second time, and still nothing. We finally had to forcefully remove him from his chair, he threw a punch at his mom, and was late getting to school due to the full-blown nuclear meltdown that followed. So… we told him that there would be no computer until the next week.

All weekend, he asked us about it. “Can I use my computer today?” “What about Sunday? That’s the start of the week on some calendars.” “Pleeeeease! Let me play something educational!” He’s extremely convincing when he’s in his sweetheart mode and it’s hard to say no, but… we perservered. His ceaseless negotiating remains one of his biggest behavioral issues, and we’re working hard to shut him down and let him know that what we say is final.

Today, he got off to school with only a few minor hitches. He had a rough day at school, but promises are promises, and I told him that he could use his computer to do his daily Reflex Math assignment, and that once he was done, he could play Minecraft for forty minutes (down from forty-five, due to some grousing during his math work).

I also reminded him that if he had no issues with walking away from the computer when his time was up, he could play for half an hour in the morning before school.

Listen, I don’t have a huge amount of experience in behavioral therapy. I’ve only parented two kids, and not to completion (haha, it’s never “complete”, joke’s on me!). That’s not a big sample size. But it’s been my experience with most that I know—including myself, when I was a lad—that when a child is eight years old, these sorts of cause-effect disciplininary routines usually work:

“Son, if you do x again, then I’m going to take away y, your favorite thing in the world, for a bit.”

“Dad, I don’t believe you.” Does x. Loses y. “Oh, huh. That sucks.” Tries x again, just to be sure. Damn. Lost y again. Maybe that was just a fluke. We’ll give x one more go, because there was that one time that dad said… Whoa! He took away y again. Guess dad’s serious!

This doesn’t appear to work for our son. Maybe it does, but after a hundred times. Or five hundred. I don’t know.

When it was time to turn off the computer, he ignored me. He gave me a sneer, said, “I don’t care” when I reminded him what we’d discussed earlier, and then… it was all over. He lost his computer again. And then he lost his damn mind. Full out, tear the mattress off the bedframe, throwing toys at my head tantrum.

At last week’s group therapy session, one of the other parents said of her son, “We just don’t do screen time anymore because no matter how much time we give him, no matter how many times he loses it, he doesn’t learn.”

I don’t want to avoid the problem. I want to fix this. He needs to know there are limits.

But… there are limits for me, too. I hope they can stretch.

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Vlastula