Please know that I am not a fan of video games but there is a secret to the programming of these games that seems to stir them to a level of greatness and fortunately the magic is completely transposable.
As a Psychotherapist I have heard versions of the following so many times – “why can my child be so darned focused on his video games and why can’t he be a fraction as focused on the important stuff like his chores and his school assignments.”
And as you know, these kids don’t just play these games, they play like stars. They not only play to be the best in the world; all they want to do is to achieve level after level of success, mastery and accomplishment.
So here’s what these games have in common that differs drastically from most of the what kids encounter in real life:
- In video games the incentives of the game are crystal clear and timed precisely to always transmit the energy of success. All these games have deliciously energized “time-ins” or as I now prefer to say, “games-on.” These games never forget to confront the player with the juicy energies of success. Score, score, score and all the bells and whistles the game has to offer – and the game never misses an opportunity. The successes are always connected to discernable experiences that the child can link to events of the game done well.
- These games are always in the moment, never in the past or future. The game never claims to be too busy to notice success. Success is the default setting. Even if a rule is broken the child is right back in the game after the consequence is over and the game always resets to seeing and expressing the energy of success. It never holds a grudge about a rule that was broken in the past or an anticipated rule break in the future. It is always supremely present and always delivers.
- The rules and consequences of these games are super clear and super simple. When a child breaks a rule – even a little bit – the game always simply delivers a consequence. The game never looks the other way, or cuts slack for the child just learning or for the child who is having a great game. The game’s programming never gives warnings, only a consequence. We look at these these consequences as drastic and punitive – heads rolling, blood spurting – but the player is back in the game in a second or two – even if the game is over. This is so different from real life where time-outs are are only considered to count when they are one minute for each year of a child’s age.
Kids play these games with verve. All they want to do is go up a level, up a level, up a level of greatness. They want to be best in the world and the game’s programming is what consistently inspires this.
The child comes out of these ridiculously short time-outs ever more determined to never break that rule again and ever more inspired to go further into mastery and accomplishment.
The secret is that ‘game on’ is so powerfully energized that ‘game-out’ feels like an eternity, even though it’s just a second or two. In the parlance of the Nurtured Heart Approach we call this kind of time-out a “reset.” Even tough teens thrive with short resets as called for. The advantage is that because it’s over so quickly the parent or teacher can jump right back into the truth of the moments that follow and express gratitude that the very same rule is now not being broken.
‘Game-on’ simply translates to being radically appreciative when rules are not being broken and appreciative for every kind of successful choice and value that can be called out in context of the truth of the follow of the day. “Sarah, that was so thoughtful how you moved your shoes into the hallway. It showed me how considerate you are of the space your brother needs to do his assignment. I appreciate how collaborative you are being.”
The other secret is that by always delivering a consequence when a line is crossed, even a little bit, these games avoid the trap of giving energy to negativity. This translates to: a little bit of a broken rule, a little bit of arguing, a little bit of disrespect, a little bit of non-compliance, is a broken rule and therefore a completely un-energized time-out. The child will feel even our extremely short reset as a consequence. Even a few seconds, like in the video game, will feel like an eternity if the ‘game on’ is powerful and inspired.
Go for the gold. Game on~!
Thank you for your posts. They seem to provide a very concrete, practical and effective framework to raise healthy kids. While acknowledging the vast differences between adults and kids, I wonder whether it is possible to derive a few fundamental rules about learning mechanisms that could apply to any age.
In particular, I would be interesting by your take on the “highway patrol approach to discipline”, which might not only tell us something about raising kids, but also something about promoting cooperation in adults (by thinking about the ideal cop). Those parental principles are described at the following link:
Is it a good idea when thinking of parenting style to evaluate discipline in the light of how similar rule enforcement would be done between adults (and maybe even reciprocally)?