Episode 177- Kings, Queens and Screens

About four months ago, my wife Elizabeth picked up a book called resetting your child’s brain by Dr. Victoria Dunkley and to say that this book has had an effect on our family and our life over that time would be a severe understatement. And the subtitle is “a four week plan to end meltdowns, raise grades, and boost social skills by reversing the effects of electronic screens.” I will tell you that even though we thought we were aware and we’ve been cautious in terms of how much screen time the kids have gotten, reading this book has really shifted our perspective on all of it. So in September with Elizabeth’s suggestion, we went on a complete screen detox for the kids. Now, I imagine that you could imagine that our kids were not particularly thrilled with this, but we were having some issues that needed to be addressed and we needed to check this out and without going into details on their lives, the effects of this have been nothing short of dramatic.

And like I said, our kids were not on screens for hours and hours at a time at all. But even what they were doing was contributing to moodiness and some other changes that needed to be corrected. So what happens when you pull screens away completely from three boys between 14 and eight years old, I can tell you lots of interesting stuff to begin with. They got more creative. Our 12 year old spent a month and a half building from scratch, his own Halloween costume made out of foam and it was amazing. It added so much calmness to the house, even in the throws of winter and has increased their creativity. But one thing started up that wasn’t happening until we pulled the screens away. Now we’ve always played a lot of board games and games together as a family, but that increased tremendously once this happened. But one game that was reintroduced to the family was chess.

And before we pulled the screens away, I don’t remember playing chess with the kids very much at all, but it didn’t take long as their sheer boredom for them kicked in after a while to begin exploring different games. And one of our kids came to me, he’s like, Oh, you wanna play a game of chess? I said, yeah, I’m not very good at it, but I’d love to play. And that began what it’s become now, a ritual. And as we rolled into November and then December, we were playing chess as a family almost every night, often multiple times. And then different tournaments that we would go through, we’d have somebody waiting in the wings to play winter. And this is one of the first times we had a game like this that involved everybody over a period of time. Even our eight year old was heavily involved in this wanting to play and wanting to learn.

And I learned so much about chess and the benefits of it since we started playing. And at first they were frustrated because you make a certain move and you can lose pretty quickly if you’re not thinking. And then we have some people in our family, I won’t say who, but are thinking short term or making short term moves. And the person that’s planning it out that’s thinking about a move with is going to lead to the next move that they do. They wind up dominating time and time again, which obviously led to some frustration and then more learning and then some more frustration and then an eventual unexpected victory. And we found ourselves noticing that this is really a tremendous gauge on the way the kids are thinking and the way they go about planning. Because you could see the more impulsive ones making impulsive moves.

And it’s unlike a lot of other games too, where if you do that and you have a weakness, it gets exposed by the person that’s thinking longer term. So I started looking up the benefits of the chess and I always knew it was the intellectual game and I never grew up feeling like an intellectual. So maybe that’s why I didn’t play. But I was really amazed when I saw what the benefits of playing chess are to begin with. Did you know that chess helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease? That is because when you’re playing chess, the most active part of your body is the brain. They say that playing chess decreases the odds of dementia and while you’re doing that, it also reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety and depression. Playing chess also raises your kid’s IQ. Another area that gets better that I suspected while we were playing is that it increases your kids problem solving skills, which is key.

Playing chess allows your kids to become problem solvers because it’s not about mindlessly moving pieces around a board. You have multiple facets going on with different pieces that do different things and they work in synergy together, but they all have different roles, so you have to understand what a Rook can do or upon or how the queen can work and how to use to its value, the Bishop and how to keep the King out of harm’s way. Kids playing chess also improves their memory because while you’re playing simultaneously, you need to remember the moves that your opponent made, which moves can help them in the future and presently and how that works for your game as well. So by doing that and doing it on a consistent basis has a major effect on improving your kid’s memory. Also, quite obviously when you’re playing chess, it’s going to improve your concentration.

And how many of us want our children to become better at concentration? And it’s so obvious playing, because I remember playing with Nolan and he’d won two games in a row and got a little bit cocky. Then he started not concentrating as deeply and he would make a move and you’d turn away and talk to his brothers. Then he’d come back and want to know what move I made. He wasn’t thinking and he wasn’t planning and he wasn’t concentrating. And when that happened he lost the game very quickly. And by the next game I’ll tell you, he was in full concentration mode. The last one we’ll talk about is probably to me the most important for their future. And it teaches them foresight and planning. And so often impulsiveness is going to get us in trouble, especially at a young age. And the sooner that they could develop planning and foresight, the better off they’re going to be.

If you remember from a past episode when I asked Seth Godin as parents, what do we need our kids to learn and what do we not need our kids to learn? He said anything to do with memorization is useless because you can look it up. If you could teach your kids to lead and to solve interesting problems, they’re gonna be in great shape. And in terms of solving interesting problems at this age, I can’t think of anything better than learning and playing the game of chess. So if you haven’t started with your kids, I highly encourage you to do so because not only is it good for them as much as they got a bad rap, but I was in school for being a game for nerds. It’s incredibly fun and it’s surprisingly addictive. So if you’re doing it with your kids, keep going, and if you haven’t, I highly encourage you to give it a shot. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

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