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Can You Actually Connect With Your Kids Through Video Games?

Sooooo your teens are probably playing a lot of video games. Do you feel like you don’t understand the appeal? Is your kid obsessed with some games and you don’t know how to connect? Kids find and share meaning through play, and those languages remain important even as we get older. I play a lot of video games myself, and I often times find myself playing interpreter for parents as a therapist to translate. Here are the kinds of language I notice that are used by kids to explain how they play.

Start with the outsides of things. If there’s obvious characters that your kid interacts with, ask them about why they like that character. If they start talking about their personality, how they behave, and how they relate to other characters, your kid connects with a style of “projective play”. They really love getting into stories and pretending to be a character. These games can include elements of fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. Your child might spend a lot of time thinking about people.

If your kid talks about the mechanics of the game more than the character (“They jump higher! They do more damage! They have the most powerful move in the game!!”), then your kid might also like the style of “competitive play”. This is usually a game that has a very obvious way to win or lose and usually very clear boundaries within the game. War shooters, sports games, and fighting games tend to have their own spectator audience online, so you might find your teen spending time looking up strategies and watching matches not unlike more traditional sports. Ask them if there are other people who play the game really well that they know about. Your child might really connect with a “coach” mentality in this sense, and might get stuck when switching between competitive mode and people mode.

If your kid talks about the environment (“Check out this cool castle I built!” “Here’s my house where I keep my one million pet monsters!” “My friends and I built this fortress!”), then your child might enjoy the style of “expressive play”. Your child wants you to explore what they’ve made to learn more about them or their friends group. Absolutely let them be your tour guide to their world. Ask them how they would live or move in that space (or who/what would live there).

These styles can pair well together and are not single note flavors. There’s no truly wrong way to play a game, but above all else I encourage every parent to talk to their children about what their kids are looking for in their play experience. Take note of HOW your child talks about how they feel before and after they finish a game.

What kinds of conversations do you hear happening? I’d love to hear them!

Let’s Talk About Dreams! Part Three

So my last blog post I talked about how slow wave sleep (the big dip at hours 1, 2, 4 and 6 in the graph) is responsible for consolidating memories of what happened during the day, and how REM sleep (the dark blue crests at the top of the sleep stages) are what are responsible for rote memorization.

Knowing this is how our sleep cycle has an effect on memory, let’s talk about what you can do to get the most from it. 

sleep graph

First off, since you can expect 4-5 instances of REM sleep a night, that is about 4-5 opportunities for your brain to remember new tasks you give it. This doesn’t mean it hits the “Save file” button 4-5 times, it means that there are opportunities to save pieces of a process. If you are trying to cram for a test and still get frustrated why it doesn’t work, the graph to the right is why. If you study something new in smaller bursts, or make a behavior change in smaller bursts, over a longer period of time, it will be consolidated more completely since there were more nights in a row where your brain could consolidate parts of the process.

There’s another quirk of memory to be aware of that can be helpful. Sometimes, when we have to memorize things in order, we might get frustrated that we can’t quite recall all of it. This is normal. Some things you might study get forgotten. This is because your brain tends to see some types of information as more important.
When we try to remember a sequence of things, we tend to remember the beginning of a sequence and the end of a sequence. This is called the primacy and recency effect, respectively. Your brain is really good at consolidating those memories first, partially because it likes to draw boundaries around information, and fill it in later.


I can not state this hard enough: this is why cramming does not work.  When people try to study a lot of information all at once, their brain will only prioritize the first and last bits of that big chunk.  Even if you were to study for 8 hours, your brain will only care about that starting point and ending point. (And you would care about a lot of wasted time.)


Instead of looking at this like a fault, take note of what your brain is really eager to commit to. If you were to break down a big list into smaller chunks, and study each one individually, more frequently, your brain would draw the beginning and end of a smaller list, closer together.  Once that smaller list takes little effort to remember, you can move on to the next one. (Attention High School Students Who Have To Memorize The Periodic Table or Shakespeare: That’s how you do it.)


If you are looking for tools to help supplement your study routines, check out programs like the Mnemosyne Project or Quizlet.


If you’ve found these blogs about dreams, sleep and memory helpful, or you have more questions about how the brain works, I’d love to hear back from you! I can be reached at

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