Friday, August 15, 2008

Your Kids: Cheaters or Sticklers for Rules

An interesting article at Slate on when you should tell your kids its okay to break the rules and when they should stick to them.

No one likes a cheater, for sure. But no one likes a stickler, either. What if your kid is the one who tends to wave the rule book while yelling "no fair"? Teaching kids about playing games is a subtle enterprise, when you stop to think about it. On the one hand, the point of a game is to win it. For some kids, the competition is itself a stumbling block—whether it's Monopoly or kickball or soccer, they back away from contests that end with winners and losers. These kids don't focus much on the rules; they're not invested enough. But then there are the kids for whom competition is an almighty thrill. They're not interested in just hitting a tennis ball around. They want to keep score. And once you're doing that, whatever the setting, the rules do matter. To break or bend them is to take advantage. And so it can be perfectly called for to object to cheating.

The problem is that the point of playing games isn't only to win, most of the time. It's also to hang out with friends, have a good time, while away a sunny or rainy afternoon. Viewed through that lens, it's important to tolerate a little rule bending. Did the dice fly off the board? OK, roll them again. Game playing takes a lot of that kind of compromise and improvisation. We want kids to care, sure, but not so much that they send the board flying when there's a question about whether doubles means roll again. It's a lot to expect for kids to master all the nuances, to know when to let a stolen base go during a social kickball game, and when to insist on recording the out.

I teach my daughters to twist the rules to their own advantage if possible, or if not to break them and just don't get caught.

Okay, I kid.

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