A Day at the Arcade

I took my 8 year old daughter mini-golfing and to the arcade the other weekend.  Our mini-golfing was chock full of laughs, thrills, tears, nail-biting PGA-level putting birdies and aces all in the context of Africa-hot ‘Valley’ temperatures, but it was really the arcade that I thought was worthy of remark.

So I have an 8 year old and an 11 year old, and if you’re a parent that’s gone through raising children in their younger years, you’ve probably spent many a weekend at Chuck E. Cheese, bowling, or in this case- the mini-golf arcade.  The consistent racket that pervades these fine gaming institutions is the pay-by-token and reward-by-ticket methodology. 

To enjoy this entertainment, you don’t pay with traditional currency.  You have to go to a special currency exchange machine to convert your US dollars to arcade tokens, or in the futurist state we now live in- a special card loaded with tokens.  The fun began when I inserted my credit card to fund the token card transaction.  After waiting 5 minutes, the machine projected a message saying, “Kiosk is currently unable to dispense cards.  Please see attendant for assistance”.  I hunted down an arcade employee from the prize stand, who proceeded to crack open the token card vault only to find that the token cards were all mashed up together, preventing its ability for dispensement.  5-10 minutes later, she cleaned up the mess and hallelujah- gave us the token card, our gateway to good times.

In determining the amount to invest in the card, I typically run through some mathematical gymnastics to determine how much I should waste spend.  I usually look around the arcade, expecting to see some Pac Man and Space Invaders consoles valued at $.25 per round, circa 1984.  Then I’m always shocked when I look around only to find a 10-foot virtual reality Pac Man, machine gun-based Call of Duty and ‘claw for crap you’ll never win’ all valued at an average of $1.50 – $2 per round.  But this time was different.  To my dismay- there were several games valued at…  $5 a pop!!!  And what might you ask would warrant such a price tag?  Let’s just say, an upgrade ‘claw for crap you’ll never win’.  This time- the crap available to win is my daughter’s favorite..  LOL dolls.  Hook, line, sinker.

So low and behold, we wander around the arcade for what amounted to approximately 8-10 minutes, given 20 bucks only got my daughter 10 games at the historical price point, and 4 games at the newly obscenified prices.  She had some fun, won some ticket credits.  Badda bing badda boom.  Arcade time is done.

But once the arcade time is done, then comes the parents’ most dreaded part.  The picking of the prize.  I swear, it goes the same way every time.  No matter what kid, what venue, I’ve never seen even the slightest deviation.  Here it is..

  1. Parent shares total value of tickets won with child (“Johnny, you have 75 tickets”).
  2. Child enters meditative deep thought state about potential life-changing prize.
  3. Kid randomly asks about prize completely outside the universe of possibility (“Dad, how much is the X Box?”  “Johnny, that costs 17,530 tickets.”  Parent’s thought:  If we came here EVERY frickin’ day for the entire summer, we still wouldn’t get that damn X Box.).
  4. Kid asks about prize just a hair more than the tickets they have (“Dad, can I get the rocket shooter that’s.. 80 tickets?”)
  5. Parent plays bad guy denying child of the rocket shooter.
  6. At the 5-minute mark while still waiting for child to choose the prize, parent starts to lose sanity.
  7. Parent clarifies to child that they have 2 choices:  1) Spider Ring or 2) Pixie Stick.
  8. Child has deep contemplation about the pros and cons of Spider Ring -vs- Pixie Stick.
  9. Parent knows that the Pixie Stick is just about the un-healthiest, sugar infested candy available, but caves to win back 5 additional minutes of life and finally convinces Johnny to get the Pixie Stick.
  10. Parent and Child leave arcade with the mini golf score card, the little green pencil, $20 less dollars in wallet, sunburn, and a Pixie Stick.

How To Keep Kids Productive During Summer Break

A common parenting challenge I’ve come across is what the kids should do during Summer Break.  Kids are so busy these days during the school year- do you just give them a break and let them play Fortnite all day, every day?  Or should you keep them productive and enroll them in camps and classes throughout the duration of their summer respite?

I think the best approach is to do a blend of both.  I subscribe to the idea that they are overloaded in the school year, and need a break to recharge their batteries for the year ahead.  So with that in mind- some video games, YouTube, camps and hanging out with friends is essential. 

On the other hand, kids are sponges- and they have the ability to soak up so much information at this age.  It would be an absolute waste to let 2-3 months go by without doing anything productive.  But rather than force them to practice their reading, writing and arithmetic- I find it effective to figure out what they ‘want’ to learn.  Discover what their passions are, and double down on them during this nice long break.

When summer break arrives in our household, I have a ritual that I’ve been doing for years.  I take both kids out to donuts one morning (separately) and come up with their own “Summer Plan”.  It’s a win:  win- they get a sugar-infused treat, and I get to host a brainstorming session on how to avoid wasting the entire summer away.

My 11-year old boy and I have this down to a science by now.  1st stop- Blinkie’s donuts.  2nd stop- Starbucks.  He picks out the middle high-top table, the usual spot.  The most important element to make the Summer Plan effective, is to have your kids make the decisions.  It’s critical to get their buy-in.  If you were to force your ideas (i.e. “you have to read 20 books, do calisthenics, learn a new skill or else!”), it just won’t work. 

The first topic we covered was how to get some exercise, in the absence of PE class.  He’s at an age and size where I’m open to him doing whatever exercise he wants.  So I asked him how he wanted to get some exercise this summer, and could choose whatever he wanted- riding his bike, using our elliptical machine, lifting weights, you name it.  He had recently started to ride his bike around the neighborhood by himself, and it turned out this was his top choice.  To add some accountability, we determine how much the length of his average ride, multiplied it by a few days per week and came up with a goal of riding 50 miles by the end of summer.

Next topic was learning.  His passion is without a doubt video editing, so we reviewed his list of current video projects, as well as projects he wanted to pursue.  We settled on a goal of completing 4 video projects by end of summer, which seemed to be a good middle ground between realistic and a stretch goal.  The idea behind this is not only establishing a goal and accountability, but there is a tremendous amount of new learning that comes with completing these projects.  It includes watching tutorials, trying new things, learning new skills.  This is taking advantage of having the time to create his own curriculum, and walking away with new knowledge without the rigidity of a formal class.

The last topic was chores.  I heard a podcast recently interviewing an ex-Stanford college recruiter, who felt that household chores were literally the #1 most valuable skill to teach your child, and I tend to agree.  Chores teach a child accountability, humbleness, the value of work and yes- how to make money.  So this summer I decided to get a bit more creative than the usual chores-for-allowance we do during the school year.  My son has a goal he’s saving up for.  And I have a project that I’ve needed help with for several months.  So I decided to assign him the project, and we came up with a way to measure progress weekly to make sure it would be complete by the end of the summer.  We found an app to track progress weekly.  And ‘mean old Dad’ also came up with a penalty if he’s late on doing his chores and I need to remind him.

The holy grail that we came up with was a bonus, based on completing all the summer goals.  If the exercise, video and chores were 100% completed by the end of the summer, we came up with a financial incentive that would be given at the end of summer.  And the financial incentive gets him to his savings goal.  End-to-end accountability at its finest.

As far as my 8-year old, we came up with a slightly less ambitious plan, but perfectly suitable for  someone her age.  She loves to code, which can consist of developing brand new programs on the kids ‘Scratch’ application, or unfortunately- sometimes using coding apps to just play games or watch videos.  To keep things productive, we settled on getting 3 how-to coding books from the local public library that she chose- which had an almost endless amount of coding tutorials.  I didn’t feel the need to set specific goals around coding at this age, but as the summer has progressed- she’s knocked out at least a couple tutorials per week.  In other words- she’s ‘making’ games and online programs -vs- just sitting around and playing them.