Learning Parenting from Video Games

There is a lot of strife and angst in families today around the topic of video games. Part of the issue is that, behind each game, lies a whole industry dedicated to getting the user hooked.

Still, the gaming industry also offers some nuggets of wisdom that parents can apply to everyday life.

The barrier to entry for video games is pretty low because the rules for each game are usually simple and clear. Most users understand how and what they are doing relatively quickly. Then, as the player develops understanding and skills, the game begins to get harder — although not too hard. Gaming companies don’t want to create so much frustration that the user will want to quit. [i]

One of the challenges I have experienced parenting and working with other parents is the path of structure, consistency (do what you say and mean what you say), consequence, and follow through.

But I had a light bulb moment when reading Transforming The Difficult Child The Nurtured Approach by Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley when I came across this quote, “The secret is simple. Video games have the structure that more and more children need and demand.” [ii](Placeholder1)


You can break down video games into three components:

  • Acknowledgment and consequences are reflected in completely straightforward ways. No wiggle room for the child who has missed the mark! [iii]
  • Frequently audible “bells and whistles” and discernable continuous scoring reward the child’s positive accomplishments and steps in the right direction. [iv]
  • Conversely, clear and immediate consequences mark actions that are unacceptable. When the consequence is over, it’s right back to scoring. [v]


Let’s begin by taking a closer look at League of Legends, an online game where two teams compete against each other.  The goal is for players to work together to conquer the other team. However, sometimes a player isn’t playing well and loses their cool. If this happens, they can be banned for a period of time. There is no wiggle room, negotiating, pleading, etc… they are done and have to wait until another day or sometimes days before they can play again. I am not a video game consumer but I have learned a lot from students of all ages about how they learned the unwritten and written rules of video games. The rules and expectations are clear and concise.

In the Transform The Difficult Child book the authors highlight that there is no added energy or emotion when a rule is broken – there is just a result or a consequence. What could that look like at home? When my boys were little they had a hard time keeping their hands to themselves which was particularly challenging on long car drives. My husband and I came up with a rule: if they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves, it didn’t matter who started it, we would pull over the nearest parking lot and the boys would both have to do “x” number of burpees. We also implemented something similar to restaurants. We would set the expectations ahead of time and when they missed the mark, outside we went to do the agreed upon burpees.

Ironically, years later, I would learn that I was helping their attention muscles as well as helping them find a productive way to get the “sillies out.” The rule was super simple and clean. The boys knew what to expect and the consequences were easy to implement. In the beginning, we had to pull over into a lot of parking lots and leave a lot of restaurants. But, soon, the rule became unnecessary.

Here is what you can learn from video games: Set clear expectations ahead of time. Be clear on the consequences, which should be immediate and simple. When tasks have been easily mastered, start to make them more challenging. Most importantly, acknowledge when they complete the tasks. When your kids mess up, as they inevitably will, don’t overreact. Instead, take it in stride, and let them have a “re-do.”



[i] Atler, Adam, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked (New York, Penguin Press, 2017)

[ii] Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley. Transforming The Difficult Child Shifting the intense child to new patterns of success and strengthening all children on the inside (US, Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley, 1889), 14.

[iii] Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley. Transforming The Difficult Child (US, Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley, 1889), 14.

[iv] Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley. Transforming The Difficult Child (US, Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley, 1889), 14.

[v] Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley. Transforming The Difficult Child (US, Howard Glasser and Jennifer Easley, 1889), 14.