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The Game

Learn to recognize the symptoms of being gamed by your children, and treat them, before their choices progress to emotional death.


00:00 17-year old rebellious, irresponsible teen whose parents didn't deal with the behaviors.

01:35 Recognize what is happening, example.

04:47 Greg describes to the teen how she games her mother.

05:22 Mom lives by the rules: avoid teen's disapproval by never inconveniencing her or irritating her.

08:55 The 3 rules the teen created (unconsciously) to game her mother.

10:00 Kids only have one goal: ME

11:24 Rules parents need to live by: LoveandTeach. No games.


I know a 17-year-old girl, Elyssa, who for years has been rebellious, difficult at home, snotty attitude, smart mouth, ungrateful, grades dropping, irresponsible. She demonstrated all the signs leading to . . . emotional DEATH. Not kidding.

And this is the beginning of the problem. Any one of these behaviors, in a given moment, can be rationalized and blown off by the parents (and had been almost all her life).  

“It’s just a bad mood.”  

“I’m just too tired to deal with this.”  

“I can’t do anything with her.”  

“Go to your room.”  

And all the while that we rationalize doing nothing, the child is demonstrating symptoms of an emotional sickness that almost invariably becomes much worse.

Almost every fatal illness begins with relatively minor symptoms—fever, a cough, a minor headache, something—but the symptoms progress, and new ones develop, and they add up until the illness is undeniable and untreatable.  

Is Your Child Rebellious or Gaming You?

What can be done?

First, recognize what is happening.

Let me tell you of just one tiny incident between Elyssa and her mother. Elyssa’s attitude toward her siblings had become quite a problem—criticizing, sniping, controlling, being snotty—to the point that nobody even wanted to be around her. So, one day Mom said she wanted to meet with Elyssa at 7 pm.  

Elyssa blurted out with quite an attitude, “Awww, again? Another meeting?”   

Mother insisted, and Elyssa demanded to know when the meeting would end. “I don’t want this to take up my whole evening,” spitting out the words. Mom promised they would be done by 7:30. Elyssa made more of a fuss, huffing and puffing, but she agreed.   

At 7:00, the two began talking, and Elyssa vigorously resisted everything Mom was trying to teach her about feeling loved, being loving toward others, and being responsible.

At 8:00, half an hour after the planned end of the meeting, Elyssa really ramped up her snottiness and demanded, “Stop talking. You’re a hypocrite. You keep saying that keeping schedules is important, but you’ve already gone half an hour over the time you promised.”  

Mom agreed that she had gone overtime, and said they would talk the next day. More attitude from Elyssa, so Mom said, “Tomorrow we’ll be meeting on Skype with Greg.” Elyssa didn’t like that, but she was intrigued at the idea.   

Spoke with a Coach

I spoke with them both. Briefly I heard about the incident from the night before, and I was already aware of Elyssa’s overall behavior. I couldn’t help myself. I smiled broadly and said to Elyssa, “You get quite a kick out of gaming your mother.”   

Immediately Elyssa became defensive and said, “What do you mean?”  

“You know exactly what I mean. Well, mostly you know, but I’m going to describe it so that you’re both aware. Mom, you know it’s your job just to love and teach Elyssa, but without realizing it, what you do instead is play the game she has set up. You allow her to game you.” 

“How does she do that?” Mom asked.  

“Actually, you both play the game, but Elyssa set it up, and nobody is consciously aware of the rules, which make happiness impossible for both of you.  

The Rules of Being Gamed By Your Child 

“Mom, here are the rules you live by:  

Most important, you have to avoid Elyssa’s disapproval by never inconveniencing or irritating her. Number one rule. 

How do I know? Because Elyssa’s entire behavior is designed to intimidate you into believing her, ignoring her unloving behaviors, and giving her whatever she wants. She gives you attitude, snottiness, ingratitude, anger, and does whatever it takes to frighten you into being softer and more accommodating with her. 

Another way I know this rule is by watching how you behave, Mom: Your scheduled 30-minute meeting with her went overtime to 60 mins, and you actually LET Elyssa make YOU feel bad about that. That PROVES that you were keeping the rule that you must not irritate Elyssa, and must avoid her disapproval. 

Again, how do I know you were doing that? Because if I had been there talking to Elyssa, and she had tried to berate me for going overtime, I would have laughed out loud. I would have said, ‘Kid, the only reason this meeting is going long is that YOU are being defensive, insisting on being right, and acting snotty. If you were simply admitting your snotty behavior toward your siblings and committing to becoming more loving, this meeting wouldn’t have lasted longer than two minutes.’ 

So why would the meeting be so different with me, compared to her meeting with you? Because I REFUSE to play Elyssa’s game. I don’t need her approval. I’m not afraid of her or of irritating her. I just love and teach, but you play the game. I have no game to play at all.” 

“Oh, and to make things much worse, while you’re playing the game, you’re vaguely aware that it’s your job to love and teach Elyssa. You find it impossible to do both at the same time. You want to tear out your hair.”  

Mom appeared stunned, to realize that she had been tricked into playing a game where she was keeping rules she was unaware of. Elyssa looked surprised too, but her surprise was that someone had unmasked her secret. She thought she would get away with this all her life.  

The Rules the Child Unconsciously Sets Up

I turned to Elyssa and said, “And here are the rules you have set up for yourself in this game you’ve created—and I emphasize that nearly all of this began unconsciously:  

  1. I am entitled to get whatever I want 
  2. I can do whatever I want to get it.  
  3. Anybody who gets in my way is the enemy, and I can then treat them however I want. 

Does that sound familiar?” 

Mom looked quite surprised, and Elyssa hung her head.  

The game wasn’t a secret anymore.  

Everybody Loses Who Plays This Game

Parents have to somehow (1) satisfy their own needs and protect themselves from harm, AND (2) they have to satisfy the needs of their children and keep them from harm—or so they believe. That’s a lot to do simultaneously, and sometimes those goals come into direct conflict.  

Children, on the other hand, have ONE goal: ME. Give to me, don’t bother me, serve me, don’t get in my way, and give to me again. Simpler rules, eh?

And they get VERY good at it, since they have all the time in the world to focus on themselves and to manipulate their parents to play the game. Parents don’t even know what game they’re playing, so from the beginning they’re doomed to lose.  

What nobody is seeing is that EVERYBODY who plays the game loses, because with those rules, nobody feels loved, nobody is loving, and nobody is responsible. In short, nobody is happy.  

As parents we MUST see that the game our children have unconsciously set up—and the one we have been persuaded to accept—is WRONG.  

No more gaming. None. From now on, you don’t need to know the rules of that game, or the outcome, which is always bad.  

Loving and Teaching Children without Being Gamed

What can you do instead?  

Parents: love and teach. No games. 

Children: listen and learn to feel loved, be loving, and be responsible.  

That’s it. Done. Those are the rules of living, not a game. Why is it important to know this? Because then if anyone deviates from the purposes and goals I just stated, they’re playing a game that ends badly, often in emotional and even physical death. And the game has to end. 

No more games. It’s all about the love. When it comes to creating happiness, love and the truth are the only things that work.  

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