Thursday, April 26, 2012

Your Timer Has Expired

One of my kids is addicted to YouTube. Specifically, to videos people make of themselves playing a video game (was: anything in the Mario oeuvre; now: Minecraft). Left to his own devices, Alex would watch these for six hours straight--possibly, although not definitely, including pee breaks.

We have struggled with how to limit/monitor his time in this activityless activity. At one point, we gave him a set amount of tokens per week for video game/computer time. We made him put a kitchen timer next to the computer to tell him when thirty minutes was up. I installed on his computer a little application I created that is a simple timer, but one that can be made to stay on top of other windows AND that continues counting after the timer expires, so we would know how many minutes he went over his allotted time.

All of these things were intended to get right in his face and make it as obvious as possible when his time was up. Nevertheless, he still conveniently "forgot" to stop watching videos when the timer expired. Sometimes he felt justified in watching "just the last two minutes of this video I started", but other times, he simply clicked through to the next video in a series. When we called him on it, he got mad at himself for being irresponsible and disappointing us, but then the same thing would happen the very next time we allowed him computer time.

I industriously returned to my simple timer program and made some modifications and additions. Now when the timer expires, a window pops up that fills the entire screen. This window can only be dismissed with a password that Alex doesn't have. The intent of this is to force him to come to us if he wants more time.

This worked exactly as planned. For a day.

I partially blame myself (but only a small amount), because I got a little lazy yesterday. I unlocked his screen after the first half hour and said he could have one more half hour. Then he came downstairs again and said the timer was done but he had 10 minutes left on the last video. I didn't really want to go back upstairs for a third time to unlock the screen when his video finished, so I didn't make him reset the timer for those 10 minutes. That was a mistake. Sometime well after those 10 minutes had passed, I went back upstairs. Alex was still happily watching his computer.

I can't even describe how disappointed I felt. Alex is a very responsible kid in many respects, but he has this one blind spot when it comes to watching YouTube. It's like all sense of responsibility completely vanishes. I don't think he does it maliciously, and I don't even think he does it because he thinks he can sneak one by us. He so loses track of time and the world around him, that it doesn't even occur to him to turn off the computer.

I have taken away the computer for at least a day. I've learned not to set the punishment time at the moment of transgression, because my knee jerk reaction is often pretty harsh. Whenever he gets his YouTube time back, I guess we'll still try the timed lockout solution, but I guess we've proven that, at least for now, he simply can't police his own time even a little.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Random Seed of Self-Discontent

WTF is wrong with me? How can I look at my wife, my daughter, and my son and not be inspired to be a better person? Even more than before, I feel myself getting distracted and eroded by the mundane details of everyday life.

Something has to change. Now.