It’s true. My son called me a butthead and I couldn’t be happier.
Not long ago we bought an iPad. For some time I had been hesitating to get one, concerned that I wouldn’t be able to control its use in the family well and that it might become a negative influence on my kids. Like their father, they have addictive personalities.
But overall, it’s proving to have a mostly positive impact. I now use it regularly to write on the go, like a laptop, and I’ve been pretty cautious about the kinds of apps I download to it, seeking out those that can help stretch their minority language.
I also established the rule that they can only use the iPad if they’ve completed their other tasks for the day, and only for 30 minutes.
But in late June my 8-year-old son fractured the middle finger of his left hand, playing dodgeball, and I felt bad for him. The poor boy loves soccer and participates in a soccer club on Fridays, but now he was sidelined for a whole month, with a big bandage on his hand.
So I downloaded a soccer app for him, a fun little game called Soccer Physics, hoping that this would help cheer him up during this downtime. (Try it, it’s an amusing game, and requires no special language skill to play.)
And he loves it. In fact, this is the only app he uses these days. But the truth is, I think this choice has been too engaging because not only does the game lack the educational value of the other apps, he regularly gets upset when I tell him his 30 minutes are up and it’s time to stop.
This happened again the other day, and though usually I’m less than pleased by these incidents, something more occurred this time, something that, when I paused to think about it, was a clear reflection of the success I’ve experienced with my kids when it comes to the minority language.
“Just one more game”
Let me set the scene.
It’s evening, and Roy is playing Soccer Physics at a low wooden table in my home office, which doubles as the room I use to tutor other bilingual children on afternoons and weekends. Next to the iPad is a large heap of letter tiles, from Scrabble, that I used with a student earlier that day. Roy’s time with the iPad is up, but he persistently pleads to play “just one more game.” (Each game only lasts a couple of minutes.)
ME: Roy, it’s time to stop and take a bath.
ROY (eyes glued to the iPad as he feverishly taps a large blue button which controls his team): I know. I’m almost finished.
ME: You need to stop now.
ROY: Just let me finish this game.
ME: You said that the last game. But then you started a new one.
ROY: I have to win.
ME: No, you don’t have to win. You have to stop.
ROY: Oh, come on, I lost again!
ME: Okay, now turn it off.
ROY (starting another new game): Just one more game!
ROY: This is the last one!
ROY: The very last one!
ME (sighing): Win or lose, buddy, this is the last game.
“Go take a bath”
When Roy lost that game, too, and was set to start right in again, I grabbed the iPad and turned it off myself. “Go take a bath,” I told him.
My son, though, just sat there stewing at me, arms folded across his chest. Then, as his gaze fell on the letter tiles, there on the table, he reached out and began picking through them.
As I watched, he silently formed this word, then neatly angled it in my direction…
Then he made another…
And finally, for the coup de grâce, he spelled out…
I could only smile
Now let me stress that I don’t normally condone name-calling from my children. I mean, they don’t often call me names, anyway, but usually I express displeasure at this sort of behavior. But this time, well, I was struck by a different thought instead: Look at that! He may have called me a dumb, stupid butthead, but he spelled it all correctly, didn’t he? Good for him! This is actually a positive sign of his language development.
So, rather than scold him, I could only smile, because the very fact that my son has developed the capacity to label me a butthead in this way is happy evidence that my ambitions for him are being realized. No, I won’t be pleased if he now makes a daily habit of calling me a butthead, but in this instance, it’s true, I was happy to be one.
For an amusing interview with Roy, see…
For more tips on turning negatives into positives, see…