About a month ago, our twelve-year-old (lovingly nicknamed ‘Thing1’ on this blog) brought home an abysmal grade on his report card and promptly lost access to his computer. After some bargaining and tears, he accepted his fate, at least, for the night. Over the last month, however, what we thought of as a decisive tactical strike has devolved into a cold war, and I’ve had to reconsider how I define victory.
Thing1’s computer expertise long ago progressed to the point where he could evade parental controls. Between school work and an earned half-hour of time, he has defiantly managed to squeeze in some leisure activity. We were fast reaching a stalemate. Much of his schoolwork requires a computer, but his prowess (combined with preteen rebelliousness) can make policing his activity a full-time occupation. Our only defense against this has been that most medieval parental control – taking the thing away.
A couple of days ago, the battle lines began to shift.
A friend from work posted a video and link to an online programming tutorial on her Facebook page. I followed it, played with the tutorial for a few minutes, and instantly thought of Thing1. This I could allow. It was fun, and it wasn’t another mindless video game. Best of all, it was educational.
The only hitch would be piquing his interest in a website his mother was recommending (Mom-recommended activities are automatically hamstrung with an uncool factor of -12 points). I hoped, however, he would jump at the chance for any extra time, no matter how educational it was. Wednesday was a half-day at school, and knowing both kids would need to be occupied while I worked, I made my move. Thing1 walked gave me my opening almost as soon as we got in the door.
“Mom, can I please earn more time on the computer if I do my chores and another job or two?” he moaned.
“Is all your homework done?” I asked casually.
“Yes.” Knowing I would need to get back to work quickly, he decided to press harder, apparently hoping I would accidentally give permission in the rush of things. “I’ll walk the dog. I’ll fill the woodbin.”
“You’re supposed to do that anyway,” I reminded him.
“Isn’t there anything else I can do?” He put on his best desperate face for this last question.
“Let me think about it,” I said as I checked to make sure six-year-old Thing2 was occupied before heading back to my office for the rest of my work day. I sat down at my desk before calling to him through the open door. “You know,” I said, “I might be willing to extend your time for a few minutes if you wanted to take a look at this page. It’s all about programming.” Thing1 came in to look at the link. For a few minutes skepticism reigned, but his computer addiction ultimately triumphed.
“I guess I’ll try it,” he muttered almost reluctantly.
“Hey, it’s 20 extra minutes.”
“I’ll try it.” And he went to his desk.
Following the mantra ‘Trust but Verify’, I gave him 10 minutes before quietly peeking around the corner to monitor his activity. He was hunched over the screen, index finger over a line of code he had typed into the site’s tutorial. I recognized that pose. It’s the one I assume when I’m looking at a page of code, hunting for a missing semi-colon or forward slash. I had to suppress a crow of victory, as I watched my firstborn getting sucked into this world. I went in and put my hand on his shoulder.
“How’s it going?” I asked. “Are you liking the site?”
“I guess,” Thing1 responded with the perfunctory preteen indifference. He silently stared at the code. “I can’t figure out why this won’t run,” he said. The indifference disappeared. I leaned over to look at the code with him.
“I think you’re missing a bracket there,” I said, pointing to a line. He let out an exasperated snort, corrected his mistake and ran the program. When he leaned back in his chair he was grinning, flushed with success. “Do you want to do another ten minutes,” I asked, or would you rather find something else to do?”
The nonchalance returned, and he said, “I guess I could do this for another ten minutes.”
“I’ll set my timer,” I said, almost waltzing as I headed back to my office. At the ten minute mark, I hit the pause button on the timer and took another peek. Thing1 was thoroughly engrossed in the next assignment, and I decided to let the timer stay paused. I knew our battle lines had been redrawn, and I wasn’t sure who had gained the most ground. I was pretty sure, though, that it didn’t really matter.