This May will mark the third anniversary of the day I published the most controversial piece I’ve ever written entitled, “ExBox.” It was on this day that I had stripped my son’s xBox gaming system and replaced it with the Geometry textbook he had been blatantly neglecting.
He had tried to hide his failing grades by crunching the papers in the rear of the stack we’re supposed to review and sign as parents. He coupled the camouflaged test results with a last-second “oh yeah” memory recall. As he opened the car door to exit, he suddenly remembered that Heather needed to sign his folder, which he held out for a quick signature before exiting.
The ruse failed.
Knowing he was an “A” student and simply going through the throes of teenage apathy, I felt it best to get him back on the right path by taking away what meant the most to him at the time. So, later that night when he went to power up his xBox, he saw this instead:
My punishment, which I thought was brilliant, was met with diverse reactions from two primary camps…adolescent gamers and parents.
The adolescent gamers, and the 20-something geeks who exhibited the same maturity, were hotly against it. With almost rage-like ferociousness they waxed a number of four-letter eloquent opinions and demonstrated a complete disregard for the English language as they chastised me, judged me, and insulted me. It’s the only post I’ve ever written that generated a deluge of hate mail. Actual hate mail! One went so far to repeatedly tell me that I’ll probably end up “murdered in my sleep” at the hands of my own children because I’m so overbearing.
I was told that I don’t know what it means to be a good parent, that I should be banned from the Internet, that I’m nothing but a (and I quote) “self-righteous narcissistic control freak dinkwad”, and that my punishment actually bordered on child abuse.
Child abuse? Two weeks without a gaming system is child abuse? These people must live charmed lives in their parents’ basements.
I endured literally hundreds of anonymous “F this” and “F you” and “Suck this” emails. StumbleUpon blew up with 64,000+ shares and the profanity-laced comments continued to the point where I had to disable comments just to try and keep my blog clean. I received countless parenting tips from these wordsmiths that ranged from accepting the laziness so he can grow on his own to lightening up and let him experience his own failures.
Well, as a parent, it’s my job to steer him clear of these failures. I can’t do the work but I can damn sure make sure HE is. If he fails because he’s putting forth his strongest effort, so be it. He won’t be punished for that. But I won’t accept laziness or video games as legitimate hurdles to learning. As I made it clear to all of those who attacked me, no one exhibiting this kind of behavior should be doling out parenting advice. Unintelligent rants from pre-pubescent gamers had no merit with me and only went on to prove my point. That parental involvement is paramount to success.
Parents, on the other hand, embraced the punishment. Their comments and reactions were polar opposites to the venom spewed by the gaming community. “Genius!” “Love it!” “Awesome!” were just some of the shared opinion. I did have a few intelligent emails from parents doubling as psychologists who begged me to trade the xBox for a Bible, but at least they were cordial, respectful, and calm in their approach.
When I saw that my detractors had resorted to nothing but name calling and threats, I knew I had done the right thing. While the hundreds who said it wouldn’t work were up in arms over such a devastating punishment, his math grades rebounded and stayed right where they should have even after he regained his xBox. The lesson had obviously been learned because we never had to unplug it again.
And today? Andrew is a senior in high school. He’s a high honor roll student, he’s in AP classes that award college credit, he’s in the National Honor Society, and just this past Christmas he was not only granted acceptance into the college of his choice, but also offered the highest Presidential Scholarship award available: $20,000 annually, with the pledge of more to come.
For the most part, his high school successes have been the result of self-motivation and self-policing. I like to think that the life lessons instilled in him throughout his formative years had something to do with that, but even if I’m wrong, I don’t regret pulling the plug when I had to. The message was delivered, the message was received, and we saw a 180 in his attitude towards his studies and responsibilities.
Is the “ExBox” punishment what did it? No. But it was one of many building blocks and stepping stones we placed in trying to raise him from a boy into a man. Being a parent is hard, thankless work. Especially when the world around you is often hellbent on judging your every move. The only real advice I can dole out to parents of younger children is to believe in yourself and believe in your own parenting style.
Yes, there are books telling you how to parent. But these authors don’t know your children. They don’t live in your environment. And they don’t know the stresses and external forces you deal with on a daily basis. Rule of thumb…if your kids are fed, happy, protected, and nurtured, you’re doing it right. Never second-guess a happy home.
Now, because all of this logic and smarmy repertoire would only be wasted on those who attacked me, I think it’s best that I sum up my message to them in a way they can understand.
So, in the simplest of terms?