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Using Game Theory to Raise Happier Children

This article was based on the TEDxMontreal, “Parenting in the Modern World,” by Kyle Seaman:


Parenting in the modern world | Kyle Seaman | TEDxMontreal


A Difficult Job

Parenting is probably one of the most difficult tasks that most people will ever have to face and have in common. It’s about balancing the now with the future while teaching the right habits and hoping that your kids grow up to be great. Kyle Seaman shares that as he began speaking with more and more parents, he realised most of them are making it up as they go.


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Repurposing Data and Technology

While there are plenty of parenting resources, most parents turn to Google for help. Seaman questioned how technology and data could be re-purposed to make a significant change for parents.

He began to look at family life and realised there is a structure that exists with what he calls pivot points. These are points in the day where the routine takes a significant change. This is where something is different that kids do not react well to. Some examples of pivot points are meal time, brushing teeth, and bedtime.


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The study discovered why these times are so chaotic.  In most cases, it’s one of the only points in the day where kids have any say. Most of their day is about being ushered around and saying yes all the time. These pivot points are times where they can really show their empowerment by actually saying no.


Feeling Normal

It turns out that most parents assume that these pivot points should be simple, but they’re not, they’re incredibly chaotic. What Seaman discovered is that most people don’t really care why they are chaotic, they just want to know it’s normal.

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It’s important to understand that the parental desire to be normal is not about being like everyone else, or even being average. It’s about knowing that you are not alone, that you are doing this and you are not screwing up. That’s the point people are really striving for.


Happy Kids Mean Happy Parents

When studying the pivot points, Seaman considered that it’s both the children and the parents who are unhappy at these times.  His assumption was that if the kids are happy, the parents will be happy and this is where he drew the link to gaming. By taking gaming loops and feedback loops and applying them in other places, parents can make activities more engaging.


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Instead of telling children, “Do this,” try phrasing a task like this, “Here’s your challenge, can you accomplish it?” Kids love the challenge.  Parents who were setting up these tasks have found that kids are pushing them to go through the day and really take it on, and kids feel great. They want to be empowered.  We forget how important it is for kids to be empowered, especially when most of their days being told what to do.

By analyzing the data in this study, Seaman is able to use kids to help parents continue to feel normal, but at the same time pushing them to have deeper moments throughout the day. This gaming loop theory feels great because everyone’s confident and everyone’s having fun.




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