I work in the field of cyber safety. So doing what I do and knowing what I know, I was pretty sure I was doing a good job setting screen-time boundaries with my four boys as well as having open conversations with them. Until the day it all came crashing down.
I have four boys aged 6 to 16. (And to get your questions out of the way: Yes, they do keep me busy. No, I wasn't trying for a girl. And yes, they all have the same father!)
My 14-year-old is an amazingly talented sports person - the captain of his school’s A rugby team, standout basketballer, etc. Between training, games and schoolwork, he normally doesn’t have much time to play games online. But about six months ago, when his seasons ended, he had some extra time on his hands and started to play Fortnite.
My husband and I weren’t overly concerned. We agreed to a 5-round rule - this was after mum and dad learned to talk “rounds” rather than “minutes” - which usually equals about an hour.
Sure, Kenny may have snuck in a few extra minutes here and there, but overall he stuck to the limits pretty well.
Out of the blue
And then one evening, Kenny suddenly became adamant that we needed to pay $40 into his Fortnite account so he could buy a new skin and level up. Of course my husband and I said no way. But he kept on and on and on about it - just would not let it go.
I’d like to say he was acting like a toddler throwing a good old temper tantrum - but the truth is, this was a whole other level. He was possessed, and in such a frenzy it was hard to recognise him as our son.
It all escalated so fast, and in a matter of minutes.
He was possessed, and in such a frenzy it was hard to recognise him as our son.
The next thing I knew, Kenny had ripped the hallway door from the hinges clean off, punched a hole in the wall and moved to attack me.
Now he didn't physically assault me, but I believe he was just inches from doing so, right up in my face yelling. At that point, I called the police.
The police reaction
My husband was in a different room with our younger boys so that they were out of the way and not witness to it. By the time he knew what was happening, Kenny had retreated to our sleep-out. We decided not to follow him.
When the police arrived shortly afterwards, they were reassuring and really lovely. They told us they often received call-outs like ours. Teenagers get upset over things like this, they said. It’s very common. (I’m still not sure if that’s the good news or the bad news, to be honest.)
At my request they spoke to Kenny and let him know he was very lucky not to be charged with wilful damage of property and threatening behaviour.
Our son's reaction
Kenny’s initial reaction to the incident? Well, he voluntarily stayed off the Playstation entirely for a week. He also did all his chores without being asked for about two weeks (and without asking for pocket money!).
He was extremely quiet as he was very embarrassed by his behaviour. Of course he knew it was wrong - but he also struggled to apologise.
I got him to see a school counsellor and had some long talks with the counsellor myself. I took the advice to sign Kenny up to a weightlifting club so that he had some form of physical activity and a routine during the off-season.
Kenny still has the same online boundaries - one hour per weekday for gaming and play - and we talk about screen-time overload and the importance of healthy limits. He knows my views on all this.
Am I 100% sure Kenny’s rage was all about Fortnite? Not entirely. But I am sure it played a massive part in it.
Am I 100% sure Kenny’s rage was all about Fortnite? Not entirely. But I am sure it played a massive part in it. He does has the tendency to fly off the handle from time to time - but nothing like this. I think - and I’m not an expert - that immature males do tend to resort to anger when they don't know what else to do, and being a young hormonal boy his brain couldn't compute any other emotion. That’s the way I think of it anyway.
No easy answers
We took many months to heal from this incident. And it did cause a rift in our family for a long time. Certain family members even criticised my decision to call the police. They were afraid it would affect his rugby opportunities in the future.
Now, six months on, Kenny and I have a okay-ish relationship. Well, as okay as a mum and teenage boy can ever be lol. He’s always going to be the kid who needs to have the last word, who’s always right, never wrong - and who won’t back down when he thinks he’s entitled to an opinion. And of course he’ll always know what buttons to push to get a bite.
This parenting gig is hard!
And parenting in an online world is even harder. I guess my story illustrates how easily - and how fast - situations can spiral out of control, even when as a parent you’re doing all the right things.
There are just no easy answers.