Here’s a secret, I love a game. I am a bit of a competitive freak when it comes to the PlayStation®. I like to win. My kids also like to win. When the kids were little I got to be the reigning champ, unchallenged – mostly due to their lack of coordination, for a number of very good years. Did I ever let them win? To make them feel better? No. I absolutely did not. Mean mum? Maybe.
During my reigning years we had a lot of laughs! I didn’t hog the machine or anything, I did some coaching and got them playing against each other. My turn really only came when they went off to bed. Then I could play, reset high scores and just own it.
My son was the first to hack the system. My baby boy, my youngest figured out the ‘get around’. It came as a massive shock to my system the day I saw that my high score had been replaced by his…wait…what? He. Was. 8. There is no way! Alas, he had been able to cheat the system. He figured out not only a ‘glitch’ that allowed him to jump ahead at various times but also the shortcuts. He could not believe that I had been struggling along – stuck on some levels for an eternity – when all I needed to do was hack it.
The thoughts that came with this revelation were many…how is he going to learn resilience when he just shortcuts? Is he going to learn the value of hard work? Surely he knows that he needs to pass each level legitimately in order for it to count? (He doesn’t) This is cheating? My boy is cheating!
My son went on to become a life-hacker. In school he struggled. He was diagnosed with both dyslexia and dyspraxia and everything was tough for him in terms of learning, so he hacked that system too. He learned that if he lost his freaking mind in class, the teacher would send him to the office. He had discovered a glitch. He could effectively ‘skip’ levels. He learned that if he could not communicate with friends, he could lose his mind there and get what he wanted. Another glitch.
The most difficult part of his early years then was trying to un-learn these glitch finding, skipping level hacks. It was a long road. We started with working together on the social skills because without friends it is very hard to be successful. We had play dates, sleep overs and birthday parties where he could not lose his mind instead he used some rehearsed phrases to communicate and then we learned how to effectively suck it up when he didn’t get his way.
In school we learned how to communicate his difficulties with his teachers and the teachers supported us with not sending him to the office because, unlike what he would have them believe, he wasn’t going to die in that moment. We learned to push through. He learned the words for ‘frustrated’, ‘annoyed’, ‘challenged’, ‘struggling’, ‘sad’, ‘blue’ and ‘lonely’. Day by day he began to understand that he was OK. A good person. A person who finds it difficult but that’s OK. They were some LONG years, his primary years but we made it. I just had to be steadfast in letting him lose his mind so that I could help him gather it all up once that moment had passed.
Cut to year 12 and he is 100% independent and doing well. He no longer needs any kind of assistance in school and he no longer hacks the system. He is a clever kid who has figured out, with lots of support, that he can do it and he is worth it. Kids are smart. Kids know how to hack the system better than we do. What we need to do is set up a system where hacking it provides no value. A system where they will be supported but not enabled to do the things that will allow them to skip levels. By supporting we all win. The kids learn, they grow and they become the people they are meant to be.
Do you have a hacker in your room? One who loses their mind until you kick them out? This is the kid that needs your steadfast support so that they can win at life.