For two years, my oldest son abused his freedom to play on his personal computer. I'd complained and protested but never had the strength to take a stand. That all changed when I saw what an ass my son had become because of free-range Wi-Fi.
My breaking point arrived the night I had to drive 20 minutes north to pick up my 18-year-old son's girlfriend from college because he was too busy playing a game of League on his computer.
I'd told him 20 minutes before I left that I was exhausted and that he needed to be ready to drive. He groaned and told me he was "in the middle of a match," and I told him to hurry up and finish. I explained that I could barely stay awake and because it was so late — I didn't want his girlfriend, who had no other way home, to wait alone in the dark.
"Uh, OK. I’ll try," he replied.
Twenty-two minutes had passed before I went to retrieve him. He said he needed two more minutes to finish the match.
"OK, two minutes. Hurry up, we need to go," I said. At the time, my son still had a learner's permit, so I had to be in the car with him to drive.
Five minutes later, I returned to his door and watched as my adult son stood up from his computer, still in his pajamas and bitched about having to lose because he was told "at the last minute" that he had to pick up his girlfriend.
An argument ensued. Was this kid serious? In the end, out of frustration, I told him to stay home and play his game. "I'll go pick your girlfriend up, you stay here and relax," I said. I'm sure you can picture the sneer that accompanied those words.
I fumed the entire drive, which, thankfully, helped me stay awake. By the time I picked his girlfriend up, I was ready to pop. Thankfully — his girlfriend is someone who I adore, and we'd become close over the past two-and-a-half years since they started dating. She wanted to know what had happened, and I was happy to unload.
She listened and also shared with me some of her own frustrations with my son's gaming habit. Since they'd started dating, his obsession with Internet games had reached a fever pitch and even she was feeling the burn.
"That's it," I said. "I'm changing the Wi-Fi password!"
I know that some parents reading this are going to say I should have changed the password a long time ago, or merely restricted my son's Internet usage from the get-go. You know what? You're probably right. But the reality is, I didn't. Throughout the past 18 years of being a mom, I've learned that there are some battles I need to fight (drugs, alcohol, safe sex and texting while driving; those are issues I’m willing to go the extra mile for), but others just wore me down.
My son's gaming broke even my strongest convictions. I nagged him about spending too much time sitting. Nagged him about being more helpful around the house. Nagged him about finishing his homework before he started playing. I even nagged him about spending more time with us. It mostly fell on deaf ears. Sometimes he would make a concerted effort to help out and be more present — but, usually, that lasted a week, tops. We fell into a vicious cycle of push-pull, and eventually, I gave up.
I'm ashamed to admit that it was just easier to let him do his thing.
Then, it wasn't. Chores weren't getting done. Food was being eaten, electricity and Internet used, but rarely did I see my son's face or feel the relief of his more-than-able hands picking up some of the slack around the house. That night, driving his girlfriend home from college, I realized that the problem was my own unwillingness to put my foot down, and that had to change if I expected him to.
The next day, my son knew I was pissed with him. He tried to evade taking responsibility, but in the end, I wouldn't budge.
"I love you," I told him, "but the reality is — you prioritize gaming over everything else. That's got to stop."
When I told him I'd changed the Wi-Fi password and wouldn’t be giving him access, he didn't bother to fight. Something told him that this time I wouldn't back down.
And do you know what? The most amazing thing has happened since.
My son came back. I'm not just talking about the fleshy body with bones and a thick head of hair. I'm talking about my son — the funny, quirky, creative and caring young man I remember raising. He's even been doing chores, every day, even when he has to go to work.
His girlfriend told my husband and me that she is so much happier with him — that he's more attentive, and they go on more dates now that he's not frozen in his computer chair, yelling at his computer screen.
Even my son said he didn't realize how much he was missing out with her until the connectivity was broken.
So, I'm admitting to every parent out there that I slacked big time in the discipline department, let my son's gaming lust turn into a full-blown addiction and finally found my backbone to take a stand. I'm so glad I did, too.
I don't know what the future of my son's Internet usage holds. I assume that one day soon he'll move out and finance his own Wi-Fi habit. I can only hope that this life lesson has taught him the value of balance. I know it has for me.
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