Please know I am not a fan of video games, but there is a secret to the programming of these games that seems to stir youngsters at a level of greatness and, fortunately, the magic is completely transposable.
As a psychotherapist, I have heard versions of the following many times:
Why can my child be so darned focused on his video games, yet he can’t be a fraction as focused on the important stuff like his chores and his school assignments?
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 achieve level after level of success, mastery and accomplishment.
Why Kids are Drawn to Video Games
Here’s what these games have in common that differs drastically from much of what kids encounter in real life:
1. In video games the incentives of a game are crystal clear and timed precisely always to be transmitting 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 let you know about it; the game never misses an opportunity. The successes are always connected to discernible experiences that the child can link to events of the game done well.
2. 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 into 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 for an anticipated rule broken in the future. It is always present, and it always delivers.
3. 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 delivers a consequence every time. The game never looks the other way, nor does it cut any slack for the child just learning. The game’s programming never gives warnings, only consequences. We look at these consequences as puntive and drastic, such as heads rolling and blood spurting, but who’s back in the game a second or two after it’s over? This is so different from real life where time-outs are only considered to count when they are one minute for each year of a child’s age.
Kids play these games with passion and verve. All they want to do is go level, level, level of greatness. They want to be the best in the world, and the game’s programming is what consistently inspires this. The child comes out of the ridiculously short time-outs even more determined never to break that rule again, and even more inspired to go further into mastery and accomplishment.
“Game-on”/”Game-out” in REAL Life
The secret is that “game-on” is so powerfully energized that “game-out” feels like an eternity, even if 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. 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 the context of recognition: “Sarah, that was so thoughtful how you moved your shoes into the hallway. It shows 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 of the video games 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 noncompliance, and a completely unenergetic time-out. The child will feel even an extremely sort reset as a consequence (with no time for all the other stuff). Just like in a video game, even a few seconds will feel like an eternity if the “game-on” is powerful and inspired.
Go for the Gold. Game-on!
Howard Glasser is the coauthor of Transforming the Difficult Child: The Nurtured Heart Approach, and he is also the founder of the Children’s Success Foundation in Tucson, Arizona [link].