Book Review: The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting, by Paul Raeburn and Kevin Zollman

Heya, reader peeps! I’m happy to report that the Nysetvold family is, in fact, alive! We may all have nearly succumbed to the plague, but things are looking up (knock on wood).

Before the great plague outbreak of 2016, Dan and I were traveling for almost a month straight. Many fun times were had, but man—I am absolutely exhausted. So instead of working on the high-effort blog posts I had planned, I’m just going to tell you about this fabulous book I read.

The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting is basically exactly what it sounds like—it takes game theory principles and applies it to the different challenges of child-rearing. I was disappointed to learn that its focus isn’t on manipulating the little devils into doing what you want 100% of the time, but on training them to possibly grow up to be decent people. As stated in the introduction:

You might think that kids who don’t care at all about the good fortunes of their family—because they are “rotten”—would not make much of a contribution to their parents and siblings. But if the parents show that they care about the welfare of their rotten kid—despite his behavior—he will soon learn that it serves his selfish interest to treat his parents better—because they will then treat him better. According to the theorem, even rotten kids, in the right circumstances, might be maneuvered into becoming little angels. Or if not angels, then at least less rotten.

I mean, I guess that’s a worthy goal, but…meh.

Anyway, the book was interesting. None of the ideas were revolutionary—the first two chapters teach how to use “I cut, you pick,” and auctions to settle disputes, respectively—but I picked up some handy tips, like using a Borda count to choose among three options (when deciding on which movie to watch or where to go for dinner) as long as none of the kids are clever enough to use strategic voting. I also liked that there was just enough child psychology to determine which strategies will work on kids of various ages, and not enough to make this into yet another hippie parenting book.

 

Reading this book is an amusing experience. You can definitely tell this book was written by two nerdy (Kevin more so than Paul) dads with a sense of humor. In the aforementioned discussion on the Borda count and strategic voting, a hypothetical scenario is presented in which one of the kids suggests that among other possible after-dinner activities, the family could visit creepy Uncle Larry. She then lists creepy Uncle Larry as her second-choice activity, skewing the count in her favor. It’s a funny story, and it illustrates the point perfectly. The only question is why the parents in this scenario would accept creepy Uncle Larry as a serious option.

That’s the only real problem I had with this book: in many of the examples, the parents appear to have relinquished their authority in the name of “fairness.” If Mom and Dad don’t like eating at McDonald’s every night, maybe they shouldn’t put dinner up for a vote every night. If they don’t want to spend a bunch of money taking the kids to Six Flags, maybe that shouldn’t be an option. But I realize that it’s hard to come up with examples for these types of problems, and that this book shouldn’t be taken as a step-by-step guide on how to raise the chill’uns. It just made me raise my eyebrows a little bit.

Basically, The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting was an interesting read. I’d give it four stars.

 

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One thought on “Book Review: The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting, by Paul Raeburn and Kevin Zollman

  1. Pingback: The 2016 GTA Year In Review – Good Times Ahoy!

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