My game boy

Screening the automatic "no"

The first time Seth bit my nipple, I yanked him off with a firm “No!” After all, our golden rule of parenting is: Be consistent. That means teaching “no” doesn’t mean “maybe.” Or that if you whine, scream, bawl or pound the floor like a beast, I’ll change my mind. Kids are smart. If you waffle on no, they’ve got you by the tail. Kick your sister, get a no. Same goes for staying up late on a school night, or getting an addictive, vicious, mind-altering video game console, like “all” his friends.

At six, Seth asked for a GameBoy. His buddies were stabbing away at recess but, luckily, the principal banned what my husband and I began referring to as “the drug.” Then, during a playdate, I overheard: “What? No Xbox? Not even a PS2 or Game Cube? This house is lame!”

Instead of feeling guilty, I taught my son a valuable lesson. Real friends, I preached, like you not for what you have but for who you are. Soon I was driving him all over town. Proud of his popularity, I didn’t get that my boy was sneaking game time at friends’ houses. Turns out his idea of heaven is to vanish into the bowels of an unsupervised basement and blow off enemies’ heads onscreen, until hours later, I ring the bell and kill the fun.

Every few months, Seth asked again, hoping that having watched him suffer so long, we’d reconsider his fate. And every time, we said no. He played plenty of computer games online. Besides, PS2 would seduce his younger siblings into drooling addicts too. Plus, what message would we send by caving after all this time?

Then, as I tucked Seth into bed, he explained: “Mom. I’m the only boy in grade four without a game. They’re all comparing how far they get, and I can’t join.”

I was about to shake my head when he continued, “I still have birthday gift cards and a bank account. I could buy it myself. I’d choose games that aren’t as violent. I’d play on weekends only, for a half-hour, after homework.”

As I looked into my child’s hopeful face, the words reverberated: No means no. But then it occurred to me that no actually means “not now.” Because as kids grow, circumstances change. To deny Seth now would be to smash his ingenuity with one swift word.

So I did the unthinkable: I changed my mind. Inside the store, Seth hungrily scanned the shelves as I watched, frightened in this strange new world of boy arcade.

“Are you still worried?” he asked. “I guess,” I said. “But I trust you.”

“Thanks, Mom,” he said, referring to more than just the game.

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