I remember years ago when our nine-year-old had “issues”. We bought the Minecraft video game for the boys to play around with and somehow it had gotten a grip on this kid. It was consuming him. He was happy…as long as he got to play the game. All other ideas, options, and requests were completely unreasonable. He didn’t even want to eat.
There are lines we try not to let our kids pass when it comes to too much of anything and this kid had obviously leaped over it and left us in the dust.
For years, we refused to buy any video games. I really hoped to avoid them indefinitely, but the day finally came when my husband and I were at a yard sale and ran across a screaming deal on the whole setup…including a bunch of games. If I had been by myself, I would have backed away slowly and moved on. But my husband saw the opportunity to buy ahead for Christmas and still have money in the bank!
I reminded him of our past commitment to avoid this kind of purchase, but, alas, he felt the boys were old enough to handle the responsibility and we would monitor their use of said games. We immediately threw out the games that came with the set that we thought were questionable and put the gift away for Christmas.
Needless to say, our boys were over the moon, even speechless Christmas day! They reminded us of our firm resistance in the past. We used the opportunity to tell them that we trusted that they would be responsible, that they would be closely monitored and we reserved the right to take it away anytime.
Years and several gaming systems later, here we are. It’s been used for rewards as well as consequences. Our older boys are, for the most part, very conscientious about their gaming time and habits. I recently read an article about limiting our kids’ tech time and the consequences of not doing so. It made me glad we have been stingy with this time.
But here was the baby of the family who was obviously not getting it. I explained to him that he was loving Minecraft more than anything and that was not good. I reminded him of what God says about having “no other gods” and Matthew 6:24 that says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” I told him that he was supposed to be in charge of the game, not the game in charge of him (“things should serve us, not us serving things”).
Then I made him stay by my side. He strongly resisted, but I insisted. We call this “tomato staking" (here is a podcast that further explains tomato-staking). It’s similar to when you have a tomato plant that is falling over and trying to grow in all kinds of directions that are not good for it and won’t bring a good harvest. We stake the plant to something straight and solid to save it from itself. I’ve sometimes done the same thing with children. Our kids need us to protect them from themselves because they often don’t know what’s best for them. That’s why God made us the parents…to parent them.
So our youngest stayed by my side for quite a while. I had him help me with various simple tasks that I was already doing. I kept a cheerful tone with him and encouraged him along the way. He asked if he could go play the video game. I told him no and he came unglued again. So he continued to stay by my side longer. After testing him a few times by continuing to give him tasks to do, I could see a very changed heart and attitude. Not all of our kids have made a genuine change that quickly. And sometimes I think a change has happened, only to find out fairly soon that they are once again in need of tomato staking. In those cases, I get to change my mind and have that child come back to my side.
After dinner, one of the other kids came and told me that the boy was coming unglued again over this same game (his siblings weren’t letting him play). I told him to brush his teeth and put his PJs on so I could send him to bed at any time. I snuggled with him a bit, but could tell he was still “unstable”. I think he had worn himself out with all the fussing and conflict throughout the day. I put him to bed shortly after that.
Guess what? The next day, I also had our 16 years old’s tablet and our 13-year old’s ipod….for abusing their time limits. Do I enjoy monitoring all of this? No. That’s why I tried for so long to avoid it. But here’s the deal: Our kids are growing up in a society laden with technological distractions and none of that is going to change. My husband and I have reminded them of this again and again over the years.
They must learn to keep perimeters on themselves in order to stay engaged in “real life”. But they have to “own” it. And that’s a process.
It’s a process that we need to help them with which means we have to walk that out as well.
Don’t think for a minute that you can do this well without praying about it and without God’s help. But I can guarantee you that God is faithful. He made these kids for this day and age and will give us wisdom just like He promised…
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”-James 1:5-8