Creating a Gamer Menu

Why Menus?

Why can’t my child make good decisions!? You tell them what to do, so why can’t they just do it? The reality, though, is not one most parents are ready or willing to hear… In order to learn to make good decisions, a person needs space to practice making decisions. Meanwhile, authoritarian parenting and educational models where obedience is a virtue have contradicted this simple fact of human experience for decades – or longer –  in American society.


The research is clear on this topic, though. Studies have repeatedly shown that when a person feels powerless in a situation their levels of anxiety and depression increase. Meanwhile, offering options for decision-making increase a person’s sense of control, and by extension their engagement with the process and overall levels of motivation. Creating frameworks for decision-making and ranges of options for choices works. It decreases the impulsiveness associated with decision-making and creates a process where intention around decisions increases and awareness for possible outcomes.


For parents, the choice is in actuality a clear one. Hold the authority and continue running a household full of power struggles and resentment, or create an environment where their children have space to practice making decisions and in turn learn critical life skills and overall responsibility.


What Is a Menu?


A very effective tool I’ve used to coach parents in this process is the menu. The family will first determine what situation they’re trying to address. If you’re at this website then there’s most likely an issue around gaming, so we’ll discuss this scenario. Next and just like its namesake, parents will work with their gamers to create options for the menu. This effort will be driven by a question based in the exercise of substitution. “If you have the urge to play video games, what other options could you do instead?” It is absolutely critical that the gamer be involved in the creation of the menu. If the parent drives determining all of the options then nothing will change. I cannot stress this enough! The sense of powerlessness will continue for the gamer, and in turn the impulsiveness and power struggles, and more. Sometimes a 1:1 strategy can be utilized to great effect, where the parent adds an item to the menu and then the gamer gets to. If the gamer is really engaged in the process then you can let them do 2-3 options for every 1 the parent selects.


We cannot stress enough, the greatest risk of derailing this exercise exists in the parent’s unwillingness to let go of control. Remember, a gradual release of responsibility leads to children who grow into healthy kickass adults.


Once the menu is built, then work with your gamer to game plan periods of time with the menu. When they get home from school have them block out what their evening looks like. Set goals of how much they can play Fortnite, while also taking time to pick other menu items. Perhaps most importantly, have a safe space where they can review their decisions with you free of judgment. Focus on what they learned from their decisions. If they played too much Fortnite, what were the transactional costs – meaning, when they said yes to Fortnite what did they in turn say no to? Was it homework, studying for a test, exercising, socializing in real life, etc.? Learning the cascading consequences of decision-making is perhaps the most critical skill of all when it comes to the front-end of making good choices.


How Can You Implement Them With Gamers?


There are a couple of key angles to approach menu building with your gamer. The first is game-specific, and the second is gaming in general.


If your gamer is struggling with self-regulation around a specific game, then try to build a menu with them that pushes them to expand out into other genres of games – as well as other healthy options outside of gaming. And, most importantly, try to build options that you’ll join them on at times. If your gamer is addicted specifically to Fortnite, see if you can get them to try out Splatoon on the Nintendo Switch… which just also happens to be a wonderful game for the whole family to play! Or, would they be willing to try out a more strategy-based survival game on Steam such as The Flame and the Flood or Subnautica. If you’re not sure what these are, Google or YouTube them! They’re beautifully rendered games that really push a person’s critical thinking skills.


If your gamer is struggling with gaming in general, then the menu will need to be focused on options to get them to spend time away from all games. Do they have a skill they’ve been wanting to develop? Then support their effort! Get them guitar or art lessons if that’s it. Utilize a site such as Udemy to get them access to photography or programming lessons. Get the whole family memberships to the local gym and create a competition. Just like we urge families to make gaming an everyone endeavor, commit to joining your gamer for their other menu options.


Wrap Up


What can we do instead of Fortnite? Your gamer might be spending his only afterschool free time playing Fortnite. So is that taking away from the quality time you want to spend with them? Come up with a list of alternate activities to do with your gamer, working together collaboratively. Humans want to have power over what is happening to them, so creating a menu offers them the ability to “choose” what they do. Here are some ideas for your menu:


    1. Play/watch Fortnite with them. I know this sounds painful to some of you, but this is a great way to both bond with your gamer and help them learn how to game well.
    2. Play a different game with them whether on their console, a board game, just play! Play is important! Especially during a long busy work week, we – including our kids – need breaks!
    3. Get outside and exercise/be active with your gamer. Throw a ball around. Do a 7 minute workout. Jog with the dogs. Just do something active.
    4. Expand your gamer’s sphere of influence. These are the 3-5 friends he spends the most time with. In positive psychology, we talk about weak ties and strong ties in terms of relationships. Weak ties are individuals with which you have limited layers of communication/relationship. Friends who you only play online games with are weak ties. But friends you online game with, in person game with, hang with after school, AND play sports with are strong ties. It’s better to have more strong ties than weak ties. If you don’t want your child to game all the time, ask yourself if you are helping him/her cultivate relationships that facilitate strong ties. Make dinner dates for your child, facilitate sleepovers, whatever it takes to build these stronger ties.