When Computers Rule the World

Life with a tween isn’t easy.  I know no one ever said it would be, but I don’t remember having as many troubles as my 11 year-old does.  Maybe it boils down to common sense for which she has little to none.  You wouldn’t think this trait could make the difference in how a life is shaped or how a life is destroyed, but it does.

Over the last year my child has had her share of problems with messing up at school, lying, and being plain deceitful.  Most of the latter have been in my general direction which makes it hurt that much worse.  It has made me wonder if I am doing something wrong or if I was just not ready to deal with my boundaries being pushed by a kid.  I myself was not one to push limits.  I was a “goody two shoes” all the way who started working at the family restaurant at age 12.  I was responsibility bound.  I have always had ambition.

My daughter is the opposite of me.  She doesn’t want to do much of anything and her interests in life are not clear.  This worries me.  What worries me more is the lying and deceit.  These are not character traits that get you far in life.  They repel trust which is what every type of relationship needs as a foundation.  It hurts to not trust my own kid.

The only thing she has wanted to do is play computer games.  We started with Wizard 101 and when she got consumed by that one I made her quit it.  From there she discovered Free Realms and this one was so bad it made her grades drop dramatically.  She was obsessed with it night and day.  She even dreamed about it.  I made her quit that game too and vowed that she wouldn’t play another one like it.  So when she asked for a subscription to National Geographic’s Animal Jam I hesitated but thought “how bad could it be?” as it was put out by Nat Geo and had animals and supposedly educational properties.  I was dead wrong.

At this stage of the game, because of grades dropping from Free Realms, we instated that she would only get to play on the weekends after her homework was done.  Animal Jam seemed innocuous in the beginning, but it too robbed her of her will to do anything.  She lost interest in reading, drawing, playing with real people, or going anywhere on an adventure with us.  Recently, she was supposed to be doing a power point project for school and I caught her playing Animal Jam instead….and lying about it….when I caught her red-handed.  I took her computer privileges away for a month.

Last night, I forgot to remove her computer from her room at bedtime.  I wasn’t too worried about it because in the past she had not pushed past my final word on punishment.  This morning I got up early to go to the bathroom and found her door closed which is highly unusual.  I went to open it and it was locked.  There I was growling in anger at the door demanding it be opened.  “Just a minute”….”I’m coming”….with every passing second making my blood boil.  She opened the door and looked frightened and stated she was just “reading her book” and the door must have locked “on accident”.  I asked her point-blank if she was playing computer and she stated “no”.  I went over to the computer and it was boiling hot.  It wasn’t a computer that sat idle for the last 3 days.  I snatched it up and went to the bathroom.  She followed me right behind, crying, and confessing.  I turned her computer on and there was the proof.  She had played.

I was wishing she hadn’t.  I was wishing I could still trust her.

I had to compose myself in the bathroom a few minutes before dealing her punishment.  I needed to chill out.  I felt so betrayed and shit on, because for the most part I have a great kid.  Computer games make her crazy and obsessive.  They do terrible things to her.  She was told she was losing her computer through August 13th which is the date that the Animal Jam subscription runs out.  She was also told that she was going to have to call her father and confess what she had done and take whatever punishment he felt was needed at his house as well.  Through the phone I heard the words “disappointed”.  I saw it in her face.  I felt it in my heart.

Later this morning, my ex sent me a few links on the addictive nature of Animal Jam per the view of the parent and from a child assessing himself and his actions while playing it.  It did help me not feel so alone in this problem.  I told my daughter about the articles so that she would know that she wasn’t alone either.  The child’s blog article about Animal Jam was the most poignant.  He said he realized all the time he wasted on the game was time he could have spent living life and all the “things” he collected on the game would never be useful on a resume and would never get him a job.

It is hard to live in such a digital world.  To be popular, you must have all the gadgets and you have to know all the games and be part of them.  I don’t want to keep my kid from being with the times or being social, but I do want her to have a rich life she can look back on.  I want her to have memories of fun-filled summers where we laughed and went hiking and camping and explored the world.  None of these things are done in front of the computer.  Life needs to be lived, not viewed.

I hope she understands her mistakes and gains the common sense to stop making them over and over again.  I love this kid.  She is a peach…an odd, funny peach most of the time that reminds me to be more human than I want to sometimes.  Don’t let your kids shrivel up their will to enjoy the world playing Animal Jam or any other of those addicting role-playing games.  We have to give them more than that.


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