Thursday, July 14, 2016

Children Are Evil - Tame Them With Jedi Mind Tricks

by Chelsea Leu

Kids are master manipulators. They play up their charms, pit adults against one another, and engage in loud, public wailing. So it's your job to keep up with them, Carnegie Mellon's Kevin Zollman says. His new book, The Game Theorist's Guide to Parenting - written with journalist Paul Raeburn - explains how.


For siblings who refuse to work together, Zollman recommends a version of the prisoner's dilemma. Assign them a task they can do jointly, like picking up the toys, then give them each the same reward or punishment based on their performance as a team: If one kid slacks off, the next time around the other one is likely to refuse to cooperate, and both will lose out. Over time, this setup compels teamwork.


Who gets the bigger room? Who gets to name the cat? It's the old King Solomon problem: Somethings you just can't cut in half. So have kids bid with chores or their allowance. If one of them wants to name the cat Macaroni & Cheese, he'll have to pay for it.


Screaming "Don't make me turn this car around!" never works. That's what Zollman calls a noncredible threat-kids see through it, because they know it means you'll suffer too. So pick punishments that benefit you. Like: "Stop punching your sister or we're going to Grandma's instead of the movies."


If you suspect your kids haven't done their homework, nail them with specific questions: Which subject? What did you learn? How long did it take? Hardest part? Even if they manage convincing answers, the act of sustaining an elaborate lie exerts psychological discomfort. Eventually they'll figure out that being honest is just easier.


To make all these lessons stick, you have to buckle down. If your kid's in a bit of trouble and sobbing pitifully, resist the urge to swoop in and save her by remembering something economists call moral hazard. Corporate bailouts incentivize bad behavior - avoid this fate by establishing clear rules and meting out punishment when necessary.

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