When parents of teenage boys congregate invariably the conversation will turn to online gaming and they will venture that their son is “addicted” to gaming and they can’t ‘get him off the xbox.’ We shrug, roll our eyes in agreement and sympathetically say, ‘I know exactly what you mean.’
What we don’t often share are the specifics of this addiction. We don’t go into detail, the really bleak moments of what it like living with the Jekyll and Hyde teenager whose moods are determined by this activity.
We rarely share how family life is being hijacked by the fact our teenage son is an aggressive, temperamental, ticking time- bomb. One who explodes when, as parents, we attempt to remove the very device that is controlling his life. We can’t include him in days out, meals or even conversation without a major confrontation.
I am not sure how this situation crept up on me. As a teacher of 27 years then director of a tuition company I knew the drill better than most. Clearly not!
At the end of last year my son’s addiction had reached crisis point. He was turning 16, in Year 11. His study, revision what ever you want to call it was non-existent and his mood swings with me were horrific.
He could literally spend hours in his room; curtains drawn; bed unmade, plates and pots building up around him. I would go in each day whilst he was at school to clear the decks, air the room for the process to begin again on his return from school.
He could spend an entire weekend locked in his room, school holidays would mean that very quickly be would become completely nocturnal, his body clock would be all over the place.
At this point I would decide that this had to stop and I would psyche myself up to the confrontation. In all honesty it was easier in some ways to leave him to it.
He was utterly self-sufficient; me and my daughter carried on very nicely thank you, in the normal world but my moral conscience would kick in and my maternal instinct would scream at me that my lovely boy was being irreparably damaged.
I would venture in to the room in which I had once read him bed-time stories and watched him sleep. I would go on with the first tentative steps.
The simplest of requests would be met with a blanket ‘no.’
Walk the dog; tidy your room; eat with us; watch some TV downstairs with us; come shopping…”NO!”
I would then threaten to remove the device…
This would trigger a tirade of aggression, vicious verbal assaults which were breathtakingly cruel. The foul language and swearing which the neighbours would definitely have heard was unbelievable.
This behaviour was reserved for me. At school and everywhere else he was the placid young man, highly intelligent with impeccable manners. He was unrecognisable to the young person his teachers, tutors and extended family saw.
If I chose to go into battle and try to get him off the game, it could escalate quickly and I mean at lightening speed to a full blown screaming match with f-words hurled at me. He would square up to me, push me out of the room – awful. My ten year old daughter would cry, I would be in tears and the whole day in pieces and him – headphones back on playing whatever game it was at the time, mumbling into the headphones to someone who I can honestly say I didn’t have the first clue as to who it was.
Online safety, yes I know the script: check who your child is taking to; look for signs of grooming- all that. I couldn’t even communicate with him regarding what he wanted to eat, and I didn’t understand the process or the gaming consoles to check anything.
As a single parent I shouldered all the blame, allowing birthday and Christmas money to accumulate to buy the consoles that I didn’t understand: xbox 360, xbox one, ps4, gaming PC, headphones, illuminated keyboard. After all he was 15 so there had to be adult permission, apathy or ignorance that had to take responsibility for this awful situation. As a single parent I had to accept the fact that I had allowed this to happen.
I didn’t really know where to turn, afterall it was only within the home that the problems were presenting. School thought he was fine, lazy but fine; friends only saw the reserved, mild mannered and quiet boy. I knew as a teacher that he wouldn’t meet the threshold for CAMHS and I didn’t think the Doctors would be the best route.
This was our routine. He was simply going to school then spending every hour locked in darkened room ‘playing’ (I loathe using that verb to describe what he was doing because it wasn’t my idea of play) mind altering violent games which turned him into a vile human and I was going to take control back.
In the end, on the back of a particularly bad ‘kick off’, I decided to reap the whirlwind as I knew this couldn’t go on any more.
I didn’t go for the ‘let’s reduce the time’, ‘only after homework’ or any of the other deals that had lasted half a day.
When he went for his shower, I took the power lead and the computer tower there and then. I put them in the car and took them.
The following days were awful, he was in a terrible state. I witnessed the ‘cold turkey’ stage. He was enraged, he cried, shouted, bargained and begged but I refused to give in. It was horrendous. This may be completely the wrong and most ill-advised thing to do but at the time I felt I had no choice. I let him keep his phone as I think that would have been too much.
After about day three I began to get my boy back. He slowly re-emerged. He sat with us on the settee without being asked. Started conversations, he still continued to plead for the PC back but I think he knew that was not happening.
The most poignant of all was that he redeveloped a relationship with his sister and she was beside herself that her brother was giving her attention that she had so desperately craved.
He became a child again.
I speak to many parents every week looking for tuition and I am open with mums of teenage boys who are addicted to gaming. I share the reality of how bad it can be.
The minute I share my experience there is an instant relief that they are not the only ones who are going through this as they feel they are. They also share their bleak times with their Jekyll and Hyde son.
This situation is so wide spread.
I can’t advise from a specialist viewpoint or the stance of an expert in this field but I can offer this. My life had changed since I put my foot down and got shut of that toxic influence that was altering my boy infront on my eyes. I have him back, yes he is monosyllabic, grumpy and a teenage Jekyll. Hyde has gone and we are happier as a family unit for it.