When he loses it, my son, he really really loses it. It happened this week in the adventure playground which doubles as an after-school club for kids at our primary school, being right next door. He’s been going there since he was five, unaccompanied for the last couple of years. It’s his favourite after-school hangout, much preferred to the proper after-school club, which anyway lets the kids who want to, and whose parents agree, into the playground after 5pm. He’ll bring himself the quarter mile home (shock horror!) if he’s had enough before it closes at 6pm, and he knows I’m at home. Otherwise, I come and get him.
So I took a while to grasp it when they called me, shortly after five, to come and get him now, please. I couldn’t quite understand what the young playworker was saying, but when he put my kid got on the phone, it was unmistakable. “Shuddup!” he screamed at the handset. “Just get lost can’t you!” I’ve heard that tone many times, but never in front of other people. He’d been kicking and throwing, refusing to stop. I came and got him.
His class teacher, the next day, couldn’t believe it: “not ____!” The whole school thinks he’s a perfect angel, a model of good behaviour. I know better, of course; he’s been as violent as he knows how to be, many times, over the past eight years, but only, so far, at home, or out alone with me. I suppose it was only a matter of time.
The adventure playground staff aren’t fazed; they see far worse on a regular basis. My kid has decided, actually, that it’s me he’s angry with. Fed up with endless negotiations over when he’ll do his homework/music practice, I’d decided the day before to be strict from now on about Work first, Screentime after . . . Seemed reasonable enough to me, and I wasn’t forcing anything on him straight away. I’m sure other responsible parents have operated that way from the start.
Our last school year, Y3, on the other hand, was characterised by a series of complicated deals; so much screentime straight away, he’d assure me, meant so much practice/homework straight after, And so many screen-free days later (assuming he was asking for a substantial whack) . . . Needless to say, he never kept his side of the bargain entirely, but he did make genuine attempts at some of it, which was why I let the process carry on.
Then it suddenly became a cool trick, inspired I believe by latest hero Denis the Menace, to promise the world and have no intention of delivering at all: “Ha ha fooled you!” At which point all deals had to stop. From then on, the rule became simple: Work First. Or read, or play at something else; but no screens at all until some work is done.
I have been paying ever since, and so has he; evenings at home after adventure playground have been desperate, drawn-out battles; he refuses to eat without the Ipad, I refuse to give it to him without at least some work first. Other friends calling to see if he’ll come out to play (I’d be fine with that) have been screamed at and had the door slammed in their face. Well, they’re kids themselves, so I trust they’ll understand! I know hunger is fuelling his rage, but the food is there on the table, and I can’t let myself be blackmailed.
I should have addressed all this much earlier, I see the proper disciplinarian parents wagging their fingers at me. I should never have let him get the idea that he decides what he does all evening. Well, I’m addressing it now. He’s a bright kid, I’m assuming he will get it quickly that I really mean it this time. This is a difficult time for kids, the start of a new school year; new teacher, lot of high-stakes assessments which seem to court failure, and the disappearance of some treasured old faces. But even so, I will not let this kid neglect his talents or his schoolwork for Denis the Menace, Chuggington or Train Simulator. He will thank me one day, I trust.