Category Archives: Family

What My Video Game Obsessed Child Taught Me

In February I wrote post about how my 4-year-old son was becoming obsessed with video games, asking the question – Are Video Games Bad for Kids?

After 4 months of observation, let me give the positive and negative aspects of allowing him to play video games with few limits:

Positive:

  • Improved eye hand coordination – It also appeared to have a positive affect in other areas like riding a bike and a scooter.
  • Increased interest in math – He began to understand complex math (for a 4-year-old) multi-figure addition, subtraction, and multiplication.
  • Organized planning – He learned how to plan ahead to complete goals and solve problems.
  • Mental exercise/Map reading – I am astounded by the ease with which he was able to memorize dozens of complex worlds, maps, sequences, and characters. He now draws multi-level maps of abstract worlds on our driveway using sidewalk chalk.
  • Improved reading – he can read faster and more precisely, in part, because the game forced him to – in order to survive.
  • Research skills – He learned how to Google a problem and solve it using a tips and walkthroughs. But now he thinks we can solve any problem this way. I’m afraid he’s is going to grow up believing Google has all the answers.

Negative:

  • Frustration intolerance – He still has little tolerance for frustration. If it isn’t easy, he has emotional breakdowns and when I refuse to help, he explodes.
  • Obsession – Everything he said or did was an extension of the video game. He didn’t think about or do anything that wasn’t related to the game. I hoped his obsession would fade, but after 4 months it didn’t.
  • Addiction – No amount of gaming satisfied him. No matter how long we allowed him to play, he threw tantrums when asked to stop. He kept playing even when it made him miserable.
  • Moodiness – How well he played affected his mood. If he struggled, his mood was negative; if he succeeded, his mood was upbeat.

The addictive nature of the game, with its quick, consistent, short term rewards, was unnerving and his inability to happily put down the controller and go to the park, was unnatural. So Christine and I decided the negatives outweighed the positives, and 4 days ago, I put the PS1 in the closet. Although he initially broke down, his mood improved within hours and has stayed positive since. His interests diversified overnight, and when we asked if he knew why we took his video game away – without prompting he said, “because you wanted me to think about something else.”

I love video games, and I’ll bring them back, with limits. But for now, I know removing them was the right choice.

What Are We Teaching Our Children About Power and Self-Control?

What are we teaching our children about power and self-control?

Why do so many young men value respect above life and liberty? How far has the prison culture value system penetrated our collective psyche? Is our obsession with respect really about respect or is it about delusions of power that are reinforced by our society?

Many evenings, a dozen 11-14 year-old boys play street hockey in the cul-de-sac in front of my house, which means I need to drive through their game to get home. The boys don’t get out of my way as quickly as I’d like and some stare at me with a look that seems to say, “yeah, whadda you lookin at.” Sometimes they fight, play rap music, and leave their equipment in the street but none of these boys has ever shown overt disrespect to my family or me.

In prison culture (not that I’ve been there – I’ve just read about it) there is a slang term called “slow-playing.” Slow-playing is when a guard commands a prisoner to do something and he complies, but he does it as slow as possible. Most 4-year-olds slow-play their parents daily. Prisoners and toddlers slow-play for the same reasons – it gives them the delusion of power and control in an imbalanced power structure. The next time someone slow-plays you remember it isn’t about you, it’s a warning sign that the person slow-playing you feels subjugated and powerless in relation to you. They aren’t doing it to make you feel bad, they are doing it to make themselves feel powerful.

So why do some boys in my neighborhood feel the need to resort to infantile tactics to feel a sense of power in their lives? Maybe a better question is… Why do so many young males feel powerless? They’ll never admit that they feel powerless, but they do, and powerless young males are at the root of most of our social problems.

I love the boys playing hockey in the cul-de-sac – I’d like to join them – I want my boys to play hockey in the cul-de-sac – that’s why I bought a house on a cul-de-sac. Fighting and rap music don’t bother me… when I was 13 it would have been fighting, cigarettes, heavy metal, and hardcore punk, so in some ways they’ve made a step forward.

But at least one neighbor finds the fighting, music, and slow-playing unacceptable. She is in constant conflict with the boys. Yesterday when she backed out of the driveway, a drama unfolded when the boys cleared the cul-de-sac running to the curb and hailing her like a queen as she drove by. When she saw the sarcasm, she stopped and lit into them.

I agree with her that the boys should be courteous and respectful, but treating them with more disrespect only digs the hole deeper, escalating the conflict and providing them with further justification for feeling powerless. Smiling, laughing, and winking at them may have been a better reaction. What do you think?

I’ve concluded that believing you can control others is delusional. The only control that exists in reality is self-control. Yes, your parents, the police, the government, or your God may be authorities in your life, but that is only because you have granted them the authority. Ultimately, they can’t make you do a thing. They can give you incentives to do something or they can threaten, detain, torture, or kill you if you don’t do something, but the choice is still yours, albeit under duress.

I once read a study of parenting styles by economic class. It found that poor and working class families stressed blind patriarchal obedience, while upper middle class and wealthy families stressed self-control. At first glance, it appears that obedience and self-control are almost the same, but they aren’t. Obedience acts in blind fear of a threatening external power structure, and treats the individual as inherently flawed and incapable of self-restraint. Self-control is intuitively making the right decision in a situation regardless of external incentives or threats.

How do we instill self-control in young people? Where does it come from? I don’t know. I’d like to read your thoughts.

How a White Board and a Dry Erase Marker Can Strengthen Your Marriage

Do you wonder why so many marriages fail? Are you in a marriage that is destined to fail? Or one destined to succeed? You can find out, but it takes guts.

Have you noticed how couples with rocky relationships seem headed in different directions? How they don’t listen to each other? How they compete with each other for scarce resources?

Not enough couples have direct discussions about where they plan to be in 5, 10, 20, or 30 years.

A couple I knew competed with each other saying “if you get to spend $5,000 I should get to spend $5,000.” It resulted in financial ruin and divorce. He’d buy a motorcycle then she’d demand a new car. She’d gamble in Vegas and he’d demand a golf trip to Florida.

What if one partner’s life goal is building a dream home on 400 acres of prime pheasant hunting land in South Dakota, while the other’s dream is owning a health spa in a trendy city? How will this work out when their dreams are in direct conflict? One may say, “Oh she’ll come around to my view someday.” Maybe he’s right; maybe she will sacrifice her dreams for his. But do you want to be stuck in the grasslands of South Dakota with a woman who would rather be in Seattle? How strong will your relationship be? Strong enough to last? Or will it cost you your marriage and your dream house?

Christine and I have been talking about her business and we discovered we had a major misunderstanding about our goals. Every time we talked about hiring help, the conversation became tense and confrontational. We avoided the topic for a while, but when we returned to the topic, the same emotional friction was present.

I was frustrated because I thought I was helping her. I didn’t realize my vision of the future, the one I was trying to help her create, was not the same as her vision. Our views were different. Then I realized…

Why are we wasting energy in a tug-o-war when we could be working together toward mutual goals?

Is planning your family’s future any different than planning any other project?

You can bring this stuff out in the open and resolve it before it causes damage.

This weekend, Christine and I mapped our future. I recommend you do this too if you haven’t done it already. I’ll tell you how we did it.

What is future mapping?

Future mapping is imagining what you want your future to be and then working back from there to the present. It is inverted planning and goal setting.

When you start in the present and map toward the future you usually end up somewhere didn’t intend to be. But when you start where you intend to be and work backward to the present, it keeps you focused on where you want to be, not where you are.

Saturday evening, we hired a babysitter, picked up some take-out, and went to the software ‘war room’ at my office and white boarded our future.

Here’s is what we did:

  1. I created two columns on the right side of the whiteboard, one for me and one for Christine.
  2. I wrote my vision of our future in bullet points under my name
  3. I asked her for her vision and wrote it in bullet points under her name.
  4. Our visions included finance, education, business, parenting style, and leisure. Anything we are not today – that we want to be in the future.
  5. The process revealed conflicting goals and misunderstandings. Once we had them identified, we made compromises.
  6. Once we had a clear joint vision of the future, I moved to the left side of the whiteboard and wrote down our current finance, education, businesses, parenting style, and leisure time status.
  7. Then I returned to the right side of the board, where we listed the things we need to meet our goals including dependencies and obstacles.
  8. Then I mapped the requirements, obstacles, and dependencies backward (right to left) to the present. This gave us sets of intermediate goals.
  9. Then we wrote down what actions we can take this year to reach our first set of intermediate goals.
  10. We repeated #9 for the next year and the next year until our actions and results met our long-term goals.

If everything goes as planned, we believe we can reach our goals by the end of 2010. It might not go as planned and our goals may change over the next three years, but at least we have a plan for the future that we both agree upon and understand, which is more than most people have.

So now, as a family, we have a clear road map into the future with action plans and goals. If you map your future with your partner, there aren’t any secrets, no hidden agendas, no misunderstandings, and no scamming for resources because you both know where you are going, why you are going there, and what you need to do to get there.

Don’t allow your future to create you, allow yourself to create your future.

Are Video Games Bad for Kids? A Personal Story.

Are video games dangerous, or are the detractors nothing but fear mongering luddites? I don’t know, but I will give you some personal observations.

Last week my 4-year-old son became completely obsessed with Sypro 2: Ripto’s Revenge. Is this a good thing or bad thing?

When he obsessed about his ABCs until he knew each letter sound and could repeat them backward and forward, it didn’t frighten me.

When he pulled out the Dr. Seuss dictionary and spent 6 hours a day for 20 straight days writing every word in the dictionary on his white board repeatedly until he could spell them perfectly, I wasn’t worried. It freaked me out, but I didn’t worry.

When he spent two weeks obsessively learning every nation in Africa, every state in the United States, and every ocean on Earth, I thought it was pretty cool.

When he wanted to read “Where the Wild Things Are” twenty five times a day, it was irritating, but I never felt I was a bad parent for indulging his desire.

When he wouldn’t do anything but mazes for a month, did I worry? Nope.

When he repeatedly begged me to look at the Road Atlas and explain what every symbol in the key represented and where he could find it on the map, I was happy to oblige him.

But yesterday after the fourth straight day of constant obsession about Spyro the Dragon, I pulled the plug on the PS1. Now I am wondering whether I’ve done the right thing. I’m thinking of giving the game back tonight, because I’m afraid I acted on some unconscious fear that seeped into my mind from media fear mongers. What’s worse is that I told myself I would always let my boys finish what they start, even if it is a video game. But yesterday it seemed to go too far and I felt I had to end it.

This led me to ask some serious questions about why I yanked the game console:

Did I do it because I was afraid? Afraid that allowing him to obsess about a video game meant I was bad father.
Why is it okay for him to obsess about numbers, letters, reading, books, music, sports, but not video games?

Am I afraid he’ll become obese? When I was young, most kids I knew watched 4-5 hours of TV everyday, few were in school activities, and nobody was obese. Studies have proven video game playing burns more calories than passively watching TV. I know why kids are obese – they eat too much sh!tty food and drink too much pop.

Is this some old puritan pleasure/punishment syndrome surfacing from deep in my subconscious? We should only obsess about things that are painful but never things that are fun and pleasurable. Why pleasurable obsessions could lead to a boy becoming a fat, lazy, sex crazed, chronic self-pleaser, and I don’t want that, he could become so blind he wouldn’t notice the hair growing on his palms. 🙂

This last question bothers me the most…

Is there a part of me that is afraid he is having too much fun, and I should end the fun, because the boy needs to understand that life isn’t just fun and games? But what else does a 4-year-old have to do? I mean, how difficult should his life be?

It also seems that the game is quite educational – at least for a 4-year-old. He needs 10,000 gems to get through a certain door. He has 8,765 gems so he asks me how many he needs to get 10,000 and this led to an understanding of multi-digit subtraction.

My boss – Jim Fischer – our Senior Vice President of Information Services, said that his father believes the reason Jim is so successful in IT is due to his obsession with coin-op video games like Asteroids back in the 70s and 80s. He used to ride his banana seat Schwinn Sting-Ray eight miles to the mall and play Asteroids for hours. It doesn’t appear Jim’s video game obsession led to his ruin. But Jim does believe – that if he had the games kids have today – he may not have graduated from college.

I’ve told myself that I haven’t bought into the media hysteria about video games. I read It’s not the Media and I agree with the author’s thesis. But I believe I still overreacted to my son’s obsession with Spyro the Dragon. Why? What fear created my overreaction?

Some obsessions are culturally acceptable and some are not… why? Where do these rules originate?

How to Get Your Son to Behave at Swim School

This technique allowed me to perform a simple miracle.

The Problem:

Every Saturday I take my 4-year old son to swim school. He loves it, but I stress about it. My son is spirited, active, and easily distracted and he is constantly testing his boundaries. He does crazy stuff just to see if I’ll stop him. I try to teach him self-control and one way I do this is by telling him that if he wants to go to swim school he has to respect certain limits – no splashing other kids, to wait his turn, not to throw toys in the pool, etc. I give him one warning and if he continues we leave swim school. I had to leave twice, but after that he stayed within the limits and his swimming improved. But recently it got complicated.

My son is smart and sensitive but he’s also controlling and he looks for any opening to control a situation. I think he does it sub-consciously. I know this is a positive trait, but only when it is channeled properly. He isn’t mature enough to be in control all the time. A few weeks ago his goggles were loose and water got in his eyes, so we had to stop the class, adjust his goggles, and he received oodles of attention. Once he saw this opportunity to get attention, he began to have problems with his goggles every five minutes, disrupting everything. This went on for three weeks. Last time I told him his goggles fit fine and if he kept complaining we would go home. He complained and we went home, which created a scene. On Saturday we talked about his goggles before class. I made sure they fit perfectly. I made sure he knew we would go home if he began to complain. Please understand I’m using the word complain loosely. His complaining is really a complete emotional meltdown or temper tantrum. It’s extremely disruptive and extremely stressful. Well, about five minutes into the class, he started to complain about the goggles fitting incorrectly. I checked them again; they were fine, and I warned him that we were going home if he couldn’t control himself. But he continued about the googles, and I could visualize an emotional breakdown any second. He started to bawl, my stress mounted, and I was about to pull my son out of the pool and take him home.

Then I thought about something Charles Haanel wrote about energy in chapter three of The Master Key System. He wrote that our connection with the universe and the infinite travels from our conscious mind through our solar plexus behind our stomach. He wrote when our solar plexus is free and open it receives energy from the infinite and allows us to channel it into our consciousness. I believe he is right. When I am stressed, I get a restriction and tightness in my solar plexus and my energy level plummets. I was experiencing the tightness and restriction. I could feel it like a knot in my chest.

This is what I did:

Right there, in the middle of a busy swim school, I closed my eyes and visualized my son swimming and happily playing in the pool. I mentally closed out all other stimulus. I focused on my breathing and eliminating tightness in my solar plexus. It was difficult and it took a few minutes of concentration and I may have looked like a nut to all the other parents, but it worked a miracle.

This is what happened:

As my tightness eased so did my sons emotions and once the tension in my solar plexus was gone, the entire reality in front of me had changed. The teacher moved to a new exercise, my son was engaged, and he enjoyed the rest of the class. He did so well the teacher decided he should move up a level.

If someone would have told me a story like this a few years ago, I would have said they were nuts. But I know what I saw, and to me it was a miracle.

I’ve never been into meditation, yoga, or anything like it, but doing these exercises is opening my eyes to the potential power of yoga.

This post was submitted to the Carnival Of Family Life. There is a lot of great stuff there. Check it out.

How rigid beliefs affect relationships

I believe you should always be on time. I get angry when people are late because I believe it is disrespectful.

Joe does not believe being on time is important. He has said so. He is usually late.

So who has the problem here? I do.
Why? Because I am angry. Joe is happy.

Joe doesn’t even know there is a problem, because I haven’t told him yet. Let’s say I never tell him and stew in my anger believing everybody believes you should be on time and that everyone believes being late is disrespectful. I will be angry with Joe and Joe will have no clue why I am angry because I have assumed he believes the same things I believe about punctuality.

Now let’s say I have told Joe that it makes me angry when he is late, but he is still always late and doesn’t understand why it is such a big deal. He doesn’t believe it is a big deal.

Joe is not going to change his belief in punctuality. He has demonstrated that. I can’t change Joe’s belief, only he can.

So what can I do?
I can choose to change my belief that Joe should always be on time and that will in turn change my belief that I have been disrespected and then I won’t be angry at Joe anymore.

OR

I can stop making appointments with Joe.

As you can see…
Joe doesn’t make me angry…
I make myself angry because my beliefs don’t allow me to accept Joe as he is.

Once I put this in print, the whole concept appears absurdly obvious. But in all honesty, I didn’t truly comprehend the concept until yesterday when someone close to me had a problem in her personal relationships.