Teaching Social Skills with Video Games

Posted on by Kevin.

A few colleagues of mine and I just finished putting on a week-long camp for boys, ages 8-11.  Like most summer camps, we played our fair share of dodge ball, capture the flag, and soccer.  We went to get ice cream, took adventure bike rides, and even engaged in some arts and crafts.  We also did something quite unorthodox: scheduled video game time!  We used that time to teach some valuable life skills:  waiting your turn, sharing, resolving conflict, and the importance of communication.

The camp ran five days.  On day one, all the boys, many of whom had ADHD, struggled to take turns as well as to constructively resolve conflict.  We missed no opportunity, however, to use the discord we observed to teach these boys new behaviors.  The threat of shutting off the game proved to be particularly potent in getting them to buy in to what we wanted to teach.

By the last day, these boys had markedly improved.  We saw them willingly give up their seats to other boys who had not had enough screen time.  They began making “I-statements,” taking responsibility for their feelings and opinions.  The biggest lessons came neither from the “learning circles” we set up, nor from the lesson plans we had laid out in laborious detail.  The video game consoles were an unexpectedly powerful learning conduit.

We made sure to communicate the importance of balancing games with real world experiences, which is why we built in intense adventures.  They all felt a strong sense of accomplishment, for example, upon completion of a ten-mile bike ride.  But, the most striking thing I learned was how video games taught them how to more effectively connect with other human beings.

  • BOOK SIGNING:  Please join me at Border’s Ann Arbor on September 8, 2010 at 7pm for a book talk and signing.


  1. I quite like reading an article that will make people think.
    Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

    Posted on by Cube World Climbing
  2. Excellent post. I definitely love this site. Keep writing!

    Posted on by Derek
  3. Hi,
    this was a great blog and very intresting, That camp sounds like a lot of fun, I wish I could go to a camp, like that!

    Posted on by Thatwasintresting
  4. Merely want to say your article is brilliant. The clearness in your post is simply spectacular and i can take for granted you are an expert on this field. Well with your permission allow me to grab your rss feed to keep up to date with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please keep up the sound work.

    Posted on by bisnis online
  5. I have been thinking a lot about this post. I did not quite track with it at first, but now I have to to see the power in what you’re asserting. Thank you for these solutions. I feel enriched.

    Posted on by Alex
    • Thanks for that Alex.

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  6. Seems that an “unconventional” type of thinking with ADHD works very well with “unconventional” learning styles; will you be continuing this camp in the coming years Kevin?

    Posted on by Jim
    • We will be doing the camp again, Jim.

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  7. I am going to use this wisdom on my grandsons. This reminds me of the old agage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!” Kevin, you are a godsend to me and my family.

    Posted on by Jerry Conroy
    • I quite agree with that adage in this case, Jerry.

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  8. What a great, novel idea! I would bet that the fact that you are a kindred spirit, a “survivor,” helped them accept when it was time for the video games to be turned off! You even got into I-messages! And one camper even gave up his or her video game time for someone else! Perhaps he had made a friend. I wonder if you found out, later, if the skills transferred. More importantly, they got to have some real adventures with real people! I wonder if there were quests, personas, treasure hunts, or paintball guns involved! What is the name of your book? I live near Grand Rapids. My CD recording of you on the Pleasures and Perils of the Cyber World, from last year’s CHADD convention, and another CD of Jesse Wagenberg on the Twice Exceptional Teen, are the CDs I lend out most. I think that beyond learning social skills you helped them feel validated, which they will need in order to advocate for themselves. They need to know they are worth it. And they need to hear some things from someone besides their mother! Parents might be interested in reading what you would have to say on what parents need to better understand. But, perhaps it’s already in your book!

    Posted on by Linda Brauer
    • Linda, thanks so much for your response. And thank you for lending out that CD….What a gift! My book is called Cyber Junkie: Escape the Gaming and Internet Trap. I will be at the Michael Gold’s conference this year talking about my book. Are you plugged into CHADD in Grand Rapids? I would love to come over there and talk sometime. 🙂

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  9. Congrats on a great “new” approach to an old problem.

    Posted on by joel wilson
    • Thanks Joel. I need all the encouragement I can get!

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  10. I’m glad these life lessons are being learned at an early age. May I suggest more art! Drawing/painting has been known to express creativity and emotion as a powerful therapeutic tool. Before gaming, we had drawing!

    Posted on by Kelly
    • Good point Robyn. And you know, a lot of intense video gamers are hands-on learners, so I think drawing is something many of them would naturally gravitate toward. Thanks for your remarks!

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  11. Thank you for the great blog, even if it took quite a large time to complete reading. (English is not my first tongue) Can I ask where you get your information from? Thank you! Brendan

    Posted on by Brendan
    • To which information are you referring?

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  12. Great blog, Kevin! I just wish that my mother tried something like that with my brother and I when we were younger!

    Posted on by Andrew Neagoe
    • Was she restrictive about video games?

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)
  13. wicked awesome! good job to all the boys in the camp

    Posted on by Ryan TenBrink
    • Thanks for your encouragement Ryan. I was blown away at how far those boys came in just five days.

      Posted on by Kevin (Author)

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