I was originally inspired by Christian Heilmann to write a short article on in-game purchases to unlock achievements and how they are actually quite a good thing for parents. I think, however, I may have opened up a whole can of worms on parenting!
Many parents lament over how cheap or free games/apps keep kids locked out of certain achievements unless they pay for them. They also fret over the inordinate amount of time required to play a game to unlock the same paid achievement.
While discussing this a few years ago with my wife we discovered we could use this to teach our son responsibility and self-achievement while enjoying the awesomeness of being a kid!
What I discuss here has (so far) worked for us - YMMV. While “I” write this article, the perspective is from “we” - mum and dad!
Ground Rules and Values
All the rules we have in place are not permanent fixed rules, they are subject to constant negotiation between us and our son. This encourages skills in critical thinking, persuasion, debate, value assessment and negotiation skills. However in the end, we the parents have the final word.
Our son is rewarded on several categories that include:
- Doing well at school
- Learning about something in the real world, for school or personal interest, in his own time
- Doing extra chores to help out around the house
Some of the values we try to teach:
- Freedom doesn’t mean being able to do anything, it means accepting responsibility for the consequences of your choices and actions
- Responsibility is not a chore, it is a reward achieved from recognition and respect
- Help others so long as it doesn’t hurt yourself or your family
The Balancing Act Between Chores, Self Learning, Rewards and Fun
Our primary goal for our son is to provide him with the best future we possibly can. We want him to do well academically while understanding the world around him and enjoying all life has to offer. We want him to succeed in life by magnitudes better than us.
Children need to be taught that certain chores are necessary to maintain cleanliness, health and general wellbeing in life. These chores don’t deserve a reward - they are just general parts of living. Things like putting dirty clothes in the basket, folding and putting away clothes, putting belongings away when they aren’t being used etc. These are things that kids need to learn so that they become instinct. We want our son to help do the dishes because it keeps the house tidy and hygienic, not because he will get a reward.
So how do you teach ‘expected’ chores while rewarding academic achievement and encouraging self learning and lateral thinking? And how do you balance encouraging your child to be a self achiever while not missing out on the fun of being a kid?
The following works in our family.
A Simple Method
Our son has several on-line things that he likes a lot. Many of these things include free app games that have in-game purchases such as upgrades etc. Left to his own devices our son would spend hours trying to unlock achievements for these games.
Rather than spending hours trying to unlock something in his games, we would much rather our son do something that will benefit his future but we also don’t want to deny him his childhood.
To achieve this we offer our son the purchase of in-game items if he can demonstrate to us that he has gone beyond the usual expectations of mandatory chores, homework and good behaviour. This aligns with “real life” where you may have a job and you get your salary, but performing exceptionally results in other benefits. The “real world” isn’t always like that but the skills of persuasion, debate and negotiation certainly help. Sometimes he will be rewarded with an iTunes gift card that he can spend on games, in-game purchases and now he is approaching his teen years music and videos (with our approval of course).
When our son wants something in-game he needs to prove to us why he deserves to be rewarded. We encourage him to do this by giving a presentation: this helps with his self-esteem in front of people and prepares him to be a leader in the future. As a side effect he has gathered a reputation at school as the kid who doesn’t use palm cards and isn’t afraid of public speaking (he is, but to a much lesser degree than his peers).
Exceptions and Punishment
It is important to note that his extra effort is not recognised if he doesn’t achieve his basic core requirements: his basic chores, homework and good behaviour are requirements that must be met before he is eligible for rewards. If the lounge room is messy for a long time, he keeps leaving his clothes on the floor or slips for an extended period in school then he doesn’t qualify for a reward.
I lied about the punishment. I guess the closest thing to punishment we have is simply not qualifying for a reward. I don’t know if we have done exceptionally well as parents or our son is just naturally well natured, but we have never had the need to punish him. He has never had a temper tantrum - EVER! He will get quiet or sarcastic, but never shows his temper. In fact when he sees other kids having tantrums he freaks out a little and keeps his distance, sometimes asking what is wrong with them.
Our son does well at school. He is slightly above average in his class. We’re happy with him being well adjusted rather than a genius at school that doesn’t how to shake hands!
All things worthwhile tend to require effort & understanding and we think our son is the most important thing for us to be spending effort on.
We are constantly being told by other adults how well behaved, pleasant and smart our son is - we are very proud of him.
I could write a long list of things we are proud of regarding our son, but I will close of with his most recent accomplishment: as I write this we are in Thailand for his grandfather’s funeral. Our son is respected enough in our family that he has been asked to become a monk for the ceremony to help guide his grand father to the other side. Whatever your afterlife belief is, being entrusted with someone’s soul is certainly one of the greatest marks of respect.
Supplement - Evolution of Our Son’s On-Line Gaming
- Club Penguin
- World of Cars Online (closed)
- Lego World: he would have been if it was released in Australia - he always checked their progress
- Ben 10 Online: he won a mother’s day competition
- Need for Speed World: he was an active bug reporter, about 3 per week, until they banned him for “spamming”. He was very upset that they thought he was a spammer and wouldn’t justify their decision let alone enter into negotiations. He lost quite a lot of value from in-game purchases on this. As much as he has loved the NFS franchise he is now actively against EA Games and is sure to discourage his friends from using them.
- City of Heroes: I’ve had a City of Villains account for years but he has only recently become old/mature enough for us to allow him to play - but he has chosen Heroes.
- Spiral Knights: He loves this one at the moment. He’s been saving ‘rewards’ for value packs that he has chosen to purchase only during school holidays so he gets better value.
- iOS: Galaxy On Fire, Temple Run, Atari Breakout and Asteroids