The New York Times Sunday magazine last week published this piece on the importance of teaching kids self-control. Self-control, according to the article, is regarded by some scholars as a better predictor of success in early school age kids than aptitude in academic subjects. I have my own story about self-control in an area where kids are notoriously weak: playing videogames.
Several years ago, my brother and sister-in-law very generously sent our kids an Xbox system for Christmas over my wife and my protests. On Christmas morning after our kids discovered the fabulous gift, we sat them down and told them that we were worried that they’d play it too much. We didn’t want them to slack off on homework, neglect reading books for pleasure, and instead opt to sit sweaty-palmed in front of the xBox morning, noon, and night. But rather than make a set of rules or time limits from the outset, instead we explained to them what we were worried about and why. We decided at the time to start out with no rules and see how well they could police themselves. We told them that Mom and Dad would be paying attention to the amount of time they spent playing and if we decided it was too much, only then would we step in with new rules. On the other hand, if the kids controlled themselves, took care of their business around the house, in school, and stayed active in sports, then they could continue to play videogames without parental limit.
That was three years ago. The kids understood our thinking and successfully policed themselves with few hiccups. They always ask permission before going upstairs to play. They almost always put the game on ‘pause’ to come eat dinner, do their chores, or go out to play with friends. And along the way, they’ve actually learned a few things that have come in handy. My two sons learned how the game of football is played such as the difference between man-to-man D and a zone, what play to call to beat a blitz, through the Madden football games that are renowned for simulating a real NFL game. They also got xbox live online accounts and have stayed in touch with my wife’s brothers and other relatives and friends around the country who played the same games that they do.
It is nice sometimes when Dad is wrong and his fears don’t pan out.