Gaming + 53 year old mum + growth mindset = mind blown…

And just like that, my 18 year-old son, Elijah left sleepy Buckinghamshire and headed off to Iowa, USA, leaving me behind, a bawling, bereft wreck feeling all nostalgic over loose toe nail clippings and stray urine particles…(yep, I’m going to miss clearing up pee from the bathroom floor…)

I hope his story will help other parents who may feel out of their depth when their children embark down a route which feels alien to them. In our case it was the world of gaming (e-sports) and what we learned is that, despite our initial concerns, gaming isn’t actually in league with the devil.

So, you know that noise that teenage boys make in their bedrooms, no, not that one, the one where they (seemingly) randomly just shout out really loud, often explicit stuff in the general direction of their computers? Well, it would seem Elijah’s pretty damn good at it (the gaming AND the shouting) so good in fact that he won a scholarship to go and study his 4-year psychology degree course in Des Moines, Iowa . While studying he will also spend time shouting explicit stuff at his computer for the college’s e-sport’s team. E-sports is such a big deal in the States that it operates a collegiate system just like baseball, basketball, American football etc. I know, who knew? Well, not us and so began a very steep learning curve!

I will confess that when he first started down this gaming route I said all the classic parent stuff like, “OMG he’ll never develop ANY social skills” and “OMG he’ll have no ‘REAL’ friends” and “OMG he’s going to FAIL ALL HIS EXAMS” and “WTF, he’ll DEFINITELY be groomed by some WEIRDO 😭” I think it’s fair to say I most definitely had a fixed mindset to what the outcome would be, which was in complete conflict to the growth mindset we’d tried our best to instil in Elijah. And it is partly this growth mindset which has enabled Elijah to pursue his goal to study abroad while doing the thing he absolutely loves.

So, I worked on turning my thinking around and opening my mind to what was really going on in that bedroom (well, maybe not completely opened) I could hear that he wasn’t just shouting all the time, he was conversing and laughing and actually developing social skills, he did have ‘real’ friends, they were just on a screen, which I think we can all relate to now following Lockdown, he’d basically been way ahead of his time and been ‘zooming’ for years; so Lockdown was a doddle for him in that respect!

And knock me down with a feather if he wasn’t also learning life skills like planning his e-sports training around school work, (because who knew, he did want to do well at school!) Seemingly, e-sports and education aren’t mutually exclusive! He had to organise fixtures, motivate his team and get him self around the country to compete (yes, gamers do leave the house!) And get this, he’s even earned money from it, yes I know, not the same as getting up at 6am to deliver papers in the northwest of England in the driving rain (not that I’m bitter or anything!) but he earned actual cash from the comfort of his bedroom, who’s the fool heh!

I’m not saying it’s all been plain sailing, I’ve worried about his lack of exercise (walking to One Stop to buy crisps counts as exercise, right?) and his lack of exposure to vitamin D made him almost opaque (but I strategically left tablets on his keyboard that he had to consume in order to type!). His body clock being on American time has caused some conflict (running a bath and clattering in the kitchen at 5am ) But the one thing that REALLY messed with my head was that family meal times became a battle ground. I had to work so hard on re-framing this, it wasn’t like we were ever like the Von-Trappe family or anything, singing in 4-part harmonies, while respectfully listening to Steven regale us of his daily business endeavours. No, the reality was they were often stressful and argumentative times, where we’d ALL come away from the table feeling a little bit rubbish. So, we decided to knock ‘family meal time’ on the head and do the thing that I swore I’d NEVER do, yep, I trundled up the stairs (ketchup in hand) and took meals to his room (I know, I know, the most heinous of crimes but bear with me on this one) What happened was he actually ate the dinners I’d prepared (and of course left the plates in his room to go mouldy!) the conflict at the dinner table abated AND every now and again he’d choose to join us for dinner and we’d have a lovely 30 mins or so of chat. A wise psychologist once said to me “you would not believe the amount of people with eating disorders I counsel which started with forced meal times together’ and I thought yep, why am I forcing my will and bias onto a situation which clearly isn’t working.

So, the moral of my tale? I’ve tried not to have a closed mind to things that I don’t understand; the resistance to embracing things we don’t like the sound of often comes from a place of fear. I’ve learned a lot from Elijah about the world of e-sports over the past 2-3 years, he’s helped open my mind to a subject that I actually knew very little of and I’ve learnt that a huge amount of positives have come from him being involved, culminating in this opportunity for him to study in America. And just because e-sports wasn’t a thing when I was a teenager, doesn’t mean it’s ‘a load of rubbish’ to be dismissed out of hand.

So, thank you Elijah for teaching this very old dog that it’s never too late to learn new stuff and although I’m as sad as a sad thing in sad land right now I’m so thrilled that you have created and seized this amazing opportunity.

Love you lots like jelly tots X

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