“Blackmail is an act involving unjustified threats to make a gain or cause loss to another unless a demand is met. It may be defined as coercion involving threats of public exposure, physical harm, criminal prosecution or for the purposes of taking the person’s money or property.” (Courtesy of: Wikipedia and Merriam Webster)
Under federal law, blackmail is considered a serious crime. It’s a statutory offense, in the same league as burglary, embezzlement and forgery. We’re talking major stuff here. I never would have predicted I’d be accused of blackmail. Especially not by my children.
But it happened this week, when I suggested that my son go outside. And play.
His response to my proposal was nonchalant. He told me he was taking a break from playing outside. Like kids are allowed to do that.
My response was non-nonchalant, and (I think) fairly clever. I told him a break from outside play would be accompanied by a break from inside video games. It sounded logical to me.
To him, it sounded like blackmail. At least that’s what he said, “You’re blackmailing me!”
I was a little impressed. He’s only 12 and he already has the vocabulary and quick-thinking skills needed to accuse his mother of a felony. Other proud parents can perhaps relate.
There was one tiny flaw in his statement. Just because someone cries blackmail does not mean a crime has been committed. My actions didn’t constitute blackmail, which involves unjustified threats. (See opening sentence.) My threats were thoroughly, completely and utterly justified. It is right and reasonable for a mom to expect her kids to play outside. Therefore, my demands were warranted and well within the scope of my mom-powers.
Besides, parents commit crimes all the time. It’s practically in our job description. Bribery during potty training is as common as Cheerios in the toilet. Perjury involving fairies and other holiday characters happens in houses everywhere. According to my teens everything I do in public constitutes disorderly conduct. My husband and I routinely commit conspiracy on the days leading up to each child’s birthday as we try to keep our secrets secret. Money laundering occurs just about every time I wash a load. And who among us hasn’t felt like a parenting fraud at least once or twice a week?
But back to my perceived act of blackmail: as far as access to video games goes, I explained to my child that rewards in life must be earned. No one gives you a paycheck if you don’t punch the time clock. His paycheck – in this case video games – was contingent on his being a normal little boy and playing outside. We all should be so lucky.
My son didn’t see the luck in his situation. He considered debating this with me but then took a look out the window. It was a warm afternoon. The sun was shining. Summer beckoned. And at the end of the day, video games or not, he is an energy-filled, nature-loving 12-year-old boy. Even our plugged-in, powered-up, social-networked culture can’t change that.
So he went outside. And he played. He shot hoops and worked on his golf swing. Later, some friends wandered over and soon they were hiding and seeking in the backyard. They came in for a drink of water and said they were meeting another group of friends at a nearby park to play football.
As my son turned to leave, I asked, “Do you want to take your phone?”
“Nah,” he said nonchalantly. “I won’t need it.”
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of “The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication.”