February 8, 2015 | by Kimberly Fletcher
Raising Super Villains: Breaking The Code

There is nothing worse then having a grounded kid – for a number of reasons. To start with, as a parent you feel you have failed them in someway that it has gotten to this point. You have had to take away all that is important (or too important) to them to prove a point. This is as much your failure as it is a failure in their judgement and behavior. Another reason it’s so terrible is then you have a bored child that is completely underfoot.

There is an ongoing struggle in our house to balance screen time and other activities. It’s usually not too bad, but there are times when the importance of the game or the video becomes way too much of an issue to be okay. At that point we have to reel it back in and that usually happens after an explosion of yelling, tears and sitting on our beds. Shortly after Christmas, actually just after the new year started, our son Lex crossed that line with me. I was home with our children alone on the final days of winter break and his attitude became too much for this house bound Mom. After a few sarcastic, smart come-backs I took away screen times for 1 week. Now as most parents know kids see any type of grounding as the end of the world. A week is equal in their minds to an hour or vice versa. With the decree announced for all the kingdom to hear (my daughter was there too) his world imploded.

What I actually should say is he imploded. He lost it. There were tears, pleads to not do this to him, promises of good behavior and his own decrees of love. All this in the matter of moments (seconds). As I explained it was too late, he had been warned for most of the morning and the deed was done the cycle reversed itself and he exploded. A door slammed, he screamed louder and there was nothing more to do then make his world much, much worse. I grounded him for 1 month. 30 days. No PlayStation (3 or 4), no Nintendo DS, No iPad, No Television, No Computer, No Mom or Dad’s iPhone – NO MEDIA at all. To be clear, so he couldn’t be a smart-ass (he is his Mother’s son) I clarified my rules. He could use media at school for learning, at home for homework and if it was allowed for educational purposes by his Father or myself. Thus started our long 30 days of boredom.

What added to this complication was the fact that for once his sister Loki wasn’t in the same boat with him. She had managed to remain out of the situation. Though she plays video games her main focus when it comes to media is the iPad and YouTube. She loves those little toy videos. This meant that if she wanted to watch a DVD, Lex had to leave the room. He couldn’t watch videos over her shoulder – and she didn’t let him get away with it.

10897084_10205485717365415_4991464847619809640_nThis article isn’t about what a horribly mean Mother I am. I know that friends and family (even my husband) thought my punishment was a bit too harsh, still a positive result came out of it. If Lex wanted to be plugged in – in anyway he needed to figure out how to make it educational. He started by learning to play Chess. That actually was our 6 year-old daughters idea. She asked my husband to teach her one night. He ended up teaching them both the pieces and moves. From there I downloaded an app for the iPad (Amusedo Games)which allowed the kids to play against each other or a virtual opponent. Lex saw this as educational  play and when all else failed he asked if he could play Chess on the iPad. This was allowed. He learned fast and I found him playing chess against one of the after school staff when I picked him up one day. He was actually holding his own.

From there he started using XtraMath, a web-based program they use in school to help with basic math facts. The program can be used on your desktop computer, but they also have an iOS version which makes it portable. Parents can check their child’s progress and receive a weekly progress report for each child using the program. Along with addition and subtraction it also drills multiplication and division facts. Extra time on XtraMath helped him pull up his math score at school and has made him more confident when doing his math homework at home. I know it seems that he was still having screen time when he should have been grounded. He was, but it wasn’t the mindless video game kind. This was more focused and there was a lot more strategy and learning involved.

What really captured his attention and I’m sorry to say it came near the end of his 30 day ordeal was Hopscotch. I had downloaded the iOS app months ago and found very little success in getting the kids to engage with it. A visual programming language which sprang from the already existing Scratch which allows kids (or anyone) to start programming without all the code involved. It’s a drag and drop block system. It gives kids a stepping stone to more complex programming, while building problem solving and creative thinking skills. Once Lex discovered Hopscotch he began to create project after project based on tutorials found in the app. From there he started creating his own projects, designs and fun. He figured out how to do things no one had shown him in a video. I even taught him how to look for help on the internet with a like of my own “Google-Fu”. His excitement about Hopscotch has been infectious and Loki has taken to learning what she can, while I’m playing with it so I can challenge him more in his methods of programming.

Along the same lines using another visual programming language, Blockly Lex started playing with our new friends Dot and Dash from Wonder Workshop. Santa had brought the two robots to Lex and Loki for Christmas and though we had a rocky start with them (FYI -make sure your iPad has the Bluetooth 4.0/LE capability) they have taken to exploring the world of programming more with them since Hopscotch has become such a big part of their life. Using the same drag and drop method they can program Dash to plow “snow” and have him work his way through an obstacle course all based on the commands they use. Personally I find Hopscotch a little more complicated, using angles and the X / Y Grid to process movements, but Dash brings a 3D aspect to the world of programming for the kids. Like the little projects and videos supplied on Hopscotch, Wonder Workshop has been releasing a monthly magazine full of creative project ideas for the kids to try and build on.

Last Sunday ended our month long journey through the the valley of grounded children. Lex has learned there are different things to capture his imagination besides Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. He has played LEGO (how he got his MineCraft fix), written stories, read books, and learned a new skill – coding. Sunday morning he took time to revisit our PS4 and his online friends. He shut down to give himself a little StampyLongNose video time (I missed Stampy and iballisticsquid too) and he has checked on his Clan (Clash of Clans) who he was so worried about. We have talked about things not going back to the way it was before. Screen time will be earned and he will need to keep up exploring other avenues of fun.

I feel we both learned a lot over the last 30 days. I learned I am stronger then I thought – honestly I think we were all taking bets that I would last 1 week and give in. I mean he did look pretty pitiful for a while there.  He learned there are things outside video games. He tried something new and learned he liked it. Hmmm…maybe next time I’ll try more vegetables.

Kimberly spent years as an agent for MI-5, a consultant for Fringe Division and an adviser for the Torchwood Institute in London before walking away for a quieter life. A Master of the Art of Google-Fu she now spends her days being un-extraordinary in a field of cube farms creating magic with her black-box. Kimberly settled in the Northeast region of the United States with her tinfoil hat husband, Mad Dog, to raise their family of Super Villains. With a degree in film-making, a love of photography and art she fights the evil Stepford-wife urges to become an ordinary soccer mom.

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