My twelve-year-old son peeked his tear-reddened face out his door. “Hey mom, can we talk a minute?”
This means I’m in trouble, right?
He had stormed off to his room after a fight that started with me telling him he had to load the dishwasher before he played his computer game, and ended with him saying, “Well, you spend all your time working on your book!”
I sat down in his desk chair, reviewing the reflective listening techniques I’d learned in parenting class. Whatever he said, I had to stay calm and just let him know I’d heard and understood him.
He sat down on his bed, hunched forward, still scowling, “Mom, what’s so good about reading books?”
I leaned back in the chair, digging through my brain for a good answer. “For one thing, when you read a book your vocabulary improves. You learn new words.”
“You learn new words when you play computer games too. Computer games have words.”
Technique went out the window. “Whoa, Ben, listen, if you want to try and convince me that computer games are better than books, then it isn’t going to work. I am not going to have that discussion with you. We have different opinions on that subject. It is no use trying to argue opinions.”
He took a deep breath and let out a shaky sigh. “Okay, but mom, I feel like... well, I want to be a computer game programmer, and you said that computer games are a big waste of time.” Fresh tears dripped off his cheeks.
I closed my eyes, and I was a teenager again, still in pajamas on a Saturday afternoon, with drawings for my science-fiction graphic novel all over my bed, and my mom came in and said, “I can’t believe you have wasted this entire day. Now get up and clean your room.”
It hurt. I felt like she was saying my writing and drawing were a waste of time, something so dear to me that I enjoyed so much was an utter waste of time. Now, as a mother myself, I knew that’s not what she meant. But that’s what I had heard.
So I told my son, “I’m sorry. It wasn’t fair for me to say that. There are good computer games. Some computer games help you learn things, and some computer games are fun and good recreation, and they help you learn to keep trying, and to solve problems. I said what I did because I was frustrated that you spend so much time thinking about computer games and playing computer games, and sometimes you are inconsiderate of your family. I’m sorry I hurt you.”
My son nodded. “I think computer games are way better than books because when you’re reading a book, you don’t get to make any of the decisions.”
I smiled. “There are good computer games, but anything taken too far can be bad, and there are bad computer games. Really awful ones. Same thing with books. There are lots of good books out there, but there are bad books too.”
My son jumped up. “That’s why I want to write computer games! I want to write good games! I want to be a game editor that families can trust, for people who are looking for games that don’t have anything bad in them. I want to prove that I can write a really fun game that has nothing bad in it!”
Tears came to my eyes as I realized that my son wanted the very same thing I did. My heart echoed the thrill of conviction in his voice. “I didn’t know you were so serious about this, Ben. That’s great.”
“I’m serious about it. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get to be a computer game editor. I don’t care how hard it is. I’m going to do it.” He rubbed the tears off his face. “Well, mom, I’m ready to go load the dishwasher now.”
“And when you’ve got a game written, I’d like to try playing it.”