I hope the genius explained your options:
- Connect the device to the computer that last synced it - you can reset the timer with a sync / backup operation
- Wipe and start over
Both of these show how important a backup is. If the computer crashes, you'll need a backup to get past the passcode (since the backup is either in the cloud with an Apple ID password controlling it or on a computer which you control outside the PIN code used to lock the device). It also allows you the freedom to wipe the device to regain control of it now and then later, restore from the backup.
The life lesson is important whether you and your son can get past the passcode lock or not.
To get past the passcode lock, there are forensic tools to try and crack backups or image the device - but most new iOS devices have data protection and connecting it to a computer will just yield scrambled / encrypted files - and until you present the proper decryption key (which is stored in the keychain behind the PIN code) - physical access to the device won't yield the pictures in a usable form.