Why I’ve stopped beating the kids

Image of Robert Shrimsley

We had a bit of a moment in the household last week when the boy beat his mother at tenpin bowling. Obviously it was his mother; had he beaten me, you’d be reading about something else entirely. Nevertheless, this was a big deal because tenpin bowling is one of those few games at which it is quite hard to lose deliberately, so this was an honest victory.

Naturally the boy was his typical gracious self in victory, rushing around like a gibbon and flashing the L for loser sign at his vanquished mum. But his triumph got me thinking about the precise age at which it is no longer necessary to “let” our children win at games. Clearly there is a progression. The spawn reach parity in different games at different times. Board game equality came first, with Monopoly an early success. Once the girl had learnt that her brother was not acting entirely in her best interests when offering to take Park Lane, Mayfair and all the stations in exchange for that pretty pink set, we could play as equals.

Then there were the games where they quickly gained the upper hand. It’s not clear why they should be so much better at computer games, but it may have something to do with the hours of study they are prepared to put in. It is a constant puzzle that the same spawn who will never actually practice the guitar will happily spend all day honing their Guitar Hero skills. To be fair, why would you bother actually learning the major chords when you already are Eric Clapton in the virtual world? But you’d think adults should still be competitive in computer games. For example, we can actually drive, so ought to be able to hold our own in Mario Kart 7. But perhaps that is to place too high a value on some of the standard driving disciplines: “Well that’s the end of the test Mr Mario, and I’m afraid you’ve failed on speeding, insufficient use of indicators and driving through a crowded shopping mall.”

That’s my competitive advantage gone you see; I’ve never taken the Passat through a crowded shopping mall, although there are days at Westfield around November …

Crazy golf is another leveller. It is a perfect family activity since golfing ability – in fact any ability – is entirely optional and possibly even a disadvantage. If only all golf was like this.

Think how much less tedious it would be were the players required to hit the ball between the rotating sails of a windmill, through a dinosaur’s mouth or across the lip of a waterfall: “And back at the 14th, it’s Rory’s third shot from the slavering jaws of the megalosaurus.” That would have to boost the viewing figures wouldn’t it? Of course you’d have to weed out the dull moments. You can’t have Tiger Woods stuck behind a family of seven who just cannot get the ball through the toilet roll.

So the opportunities to throw games for the good of their morale are pretty much down to those in which our size and speed still give us the edge; well, our size anyway. Soccer matches were always thrown, although I suspect that the boy must have worked this out some time ago. I can imagine him boasting to his mates: “Yeah, I always let Dad lose when we play; it makes him think he’s a good father.” Personal pride required that I won occasionally just to stop him gloating. He was allowed to keep winning as long as he won happily and without excessive boasting.

If he got cocky, flashed the L sign or generally did anything which caused flashbacks to my schooldays, he got whomped in the next game.

The only game we never throw is chess. There’s no point because they won’t learn and they won’t want to play again. You can go easy on them but actually letting them win is a step too far. I have started turning the board round halfway through the game but this is an overt second chance rather than illicit self-destruction. As a result when, some months back, the boy beat me for the first time, it was an incredibly proud moment for both of us. If only we’d known – I could have beaten him at everything else too.

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