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 athlete- the captain of his school’s basketball team, standout on the baseball field, 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 we learned to talk “rounds” rather than “minutes” - which usually equals about an hour.
Sure, Tyler may have snuck in a few extra minutes here and there, but overall he stuck to the limits pretty well.
And then one evening, Tyler 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 recognize him as our son. It all escalated so fast, and in a matter of minutes.
The next thing I knew, Tyler 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.
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, Tyler had retreated to our patio. We decided not to follow him.
When the police arrived shortly afterwards, they were reassuring and took control of the situation. They told us they often received calls from parents that were overwhelmed by their teens. 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 Tyler and let him know he was very lucky not to be charged with willful damage of property and threatening behavior.
Tyler’s initial reaction to the incident? Well, he voluntarily stayed off Playstation entirely for a week. He also did all his chores without being asked for about two weeks (and without asking for allowance!). He was extremely quiet as he was very embarrassed by his behavior. Of course he knew it was wrong - but he also struggled to apologize.
As for next steps, I made him go see a school counselor and had some long talks with the counselor myself. I took the advice to sign Tyler up for weightlifting so that he had some form of physical activity and a routine during the off-season of his sports.
Tyler 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.
Having said that, am I 100% sure Tyler’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.
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 criticized my decision to call the police. They were afraid it would affect his future college placement and hurt his sports career.
Now, six months on, Tyler and I have a okay-ish relationship. 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 me to lose my temper.
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. Let's face facts, we need all the help we can get to help kids reach adulthood in today's world.