Screen Time and Self-Esteem on a Rainy Saturday

Last Saturday, it rained all day . . . . again. So, tired of trying to fill our days with worthwhile activities, I gave in to the grey skies and declared the day a write off. Pyjamas, screen time, being lazy, eating popcorn and emphatically not attempting any Pinterest-perfect activities was to be the order of the day.

When the clock informed me that it was lunchtime, (I couldn't tell from the position of the sun as we haven't seen it for aeons) I left OB in the playroom absorbed in his current favourite video game, "Beach Buggy Racing" (or some such thing), and went off to throw together a lazy meal.

About two minutes later, he roared into the kitchen, yelling with delight. "I came fifth Mummy! I came fifth!" Well, we whooped, we high fived, we danced around like two World Cup winners. I scooped him up from the ground in a massive hug and declared him awesome, wonderful and amazing.

He came fifth, Out of six. It's not a world-beating accomplishment, but we've been playing this little game for quite a few months now, and every single other time he has raced, he has come sixth. Every single time. In fact mostly, he just repeatedly steers the little car into the wall and finishes the race two or three minutes after the computer competitors.

When we sit down to play together, I am basically his racing slave. He paints the car, customises it, upgrades it, chooses the driver and the racetrack, and then I have to race, earning coins and crystals so he can progress through the levels and get even more customisation options, cars and drivers to choose from. It works for us.

But all that time, he has been watching. OB is nothing if not visually astute. Of course, those skills don't come into play when finding lost objects, but have been marvellously employed in sharp-eyed spotting of various in-race shortcuts which are so hard to see when you're actually trying to keep the car on the track. He's got them clocked and has started pointing them out to me, revelling in his expertise and specialist knowledge. More recently he's started playing himself more, improving his co-ordination with the Firestick remote. And then came the momentous day when he didn't come last.

Now, I know, I do know that OB is not going to make a living playing computer games. I was a teacher, for goodness sake. They include that phrase in the hefty manual of teacher cliches. But when I congratulated OB for coming fifth, my delight was entirely genuine.

Like many young children, OB often falls dramatically at the first hurdle. Sticking power does not come naturally to everybody. I have allowed several pursuits to fall to the wayside, notably Story and Song sessions (kept running out of the automatic doors into the street), and gymnastics (couldn't bear the instructor touching him). There are those that I cling to in hope like the trampoline (doesn't like to be outside alone, doesn't like insects, is afraid of a cat jumping over the netting onto the trampoline), the bike (terrified of falling or being out of control) and the drums (shows much talent but won't play if he thinks anyone at all can hear him). Then there are those that I insist on despite his protestations, like swimming (over two years of torture), and reading (dissolves totally if first word in reading book is even remotely challenging).

I long for OB to experience the feeling of being successful. He has little friends who are talented at sports, who learned to read ages ago, who do drama and singing and dancing. He has begun to notice, throwing himself around the lounge and saying "I bet XYZ can't do that!" I found myself practically begging his swimming teacher to give him another badge (he has had four in two and a half years) as the children he first started lessons with are long gone and their younger siblings are now coming into the class. Progress is there, but it is infinitesimally slow.

Don't get me wrong. OB has talents. Significant ones. His painting, colouring and drawing are lovely. He has a way with K'Nex that astounds me. I look in the box and see a pile of plastic sticks - he sees a possible future car or rocket or windmill. But these, and other things, are not measurable in his eyes. I know that car he built with K'Nex is awesome, but he doesn't quite seem to believe it.

But when the screen declared that he was fifth, not sixth, for the first time ever, he knew. He had something concrete, a definite, tangible marker of progress, of success. And he was more pleased with himself than I have ever seen him. Later in the day, it got better. He came third and then second. When you come in the top three, the game rewards you with a little happy music and some shiny gold stars. And then today, a first place, and joy uninhibited.

Yes, I know it's only a computer game, and they rot your brain and are good for nothing. I know that too much screen time makes your eyes fall out and your brain turn to lard and drip out of your ears. I know all of that. But I also know that my son couldn't do something and now he can. And he didn't take the easy way of buying cheats (I'm too stingy!). He persevered and tried and practised and didn't give up, and in the end he did it by himself and was rewarded with not just shiny gold stars and plinky jingles, but with a sense of achievement that thrilled him. And if I can't find a transferable lesson in all of that then I need to check my home educating mum credentials in at the door!


  1. Way you go old boy, give him a big time cuddle from me xx

  2. This really made me smile :-D I blogged a while ago about the positives of computer games, and it's lovely to hear a real life story!


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