Finding the sweet spot between ‘helicopter parenting’ and ‘free range parenting’ has been a goal of mine for many years. As a mum of four boys aged 16 to 23, I have instinctively wanted to wrap my kids in cotton wool on so many occasions, despite knowing they’d absolutely thrive with more freedom.
Parents of teenagers: translated. Post continues below.
Finding the balance is tough. We intuitively want to love and dote on our offspring – to keep them safe and protected. But, if we strip back the emotion and channel our inner scientist – our precise mission (over the span of approximately 18 years) is to create independent, self-sufficient humans that don’t need us anymore. Heartbreaking stuff, really.
As a mum of four digital natives, the process of creating functioning humans really involved me drip-feeding independence to my boys over the years – particularly when it came to the online world. But, like all first-generation digital parents, I absolutely made mistakes.
Here are the three most important lessons I have learnt:
1. Gaming can get out of control. Fast.
My boys (including my husband) have always loved the Xbox. And I have too, because over the years the lure of that wonderful machine has helped me ensure bedrooms are tidied and homework is done and, for that – I am very grateful.
But without strict boundaries, gaming can easily take over. Online games have been cleverly designed to ensure players receive dopamine boosts at key moments to encourage them to keep playing.
When my boys were younger, I would give them an allocated Xbox time – with thanks to the oven timer. Turns out there’s nothing like a loud, irritating sound to get one’s attention. But as my hours at work increased and I wasn’t around to manage their gaming (and the oven timer), things quickly got out of hand.
I’ll never forget one particular school holidays when I discovered – thanks to some spies – that my older boys had spent literally all day on the Xbox. Or when I conducted an experiment and gave one of my sons 30 minutes on the thing (without the oven timer) only to observe him clocking up nearly three hours before he appeared requiring a snack.
And the problem with too much gaming? Their behaviour can often deteriorate, particularly if they are playing aggressive games; they are exposed to an adult world, and they miss out on other important life experiences like riding bikes and, you know, being bored.
Takeaway – Set clear time limits and use parental controls to help you manage this. Also ensure the games your kids are playing are suitable – they may feel pressured to play the latest games from their friends which may not be age appropriate.
Always check the ratings of the games your kids are keen to play, and ideally – you should take it one step further and watch and play them as well to ensure they are suitable for your child (even if it means, yep, hovering in the background.) Age classifications have been given by the Australian Classification Board for a reason – so just because you think an MA 15+ game is suitable for your tween, doesn’t mean it is.