Parenting expert Ivan Ferrero demonstrates how you can use your son’s passion to form a powerful connection.

Dealing with teenagers requires us to be always on the move. We have to be flexible, creative, and most of all constantly focused on the main goal. It’s the only way to help them. And you need to know your children’s world. This is the reason why I used Clash of Clans to start a relationship with a teenager. Here’s how that worked out.

Clash of Clans: what’s in it for your children? The new golden attraction.

Clash of Clans is the most popular strategic video game among kids.

Here you manage a Middle Age fantasy village from its beginning to its ultimate glory. You start very low with some buildings—golden mines, elisir extractors, troops, such a s archers and barbarians, and defenses such as cannons and archer towers.

But the feature that really makes your children stick with [Clash of Clans] is the social one.

From that moment on your goal is to make your village expand by making war against other players or by building a clan with many players in it and declaring war on other clans. The more you win, the more gold and elixir you gain, the more resources you are able to spend to update your buildings and expand your village.

This is not a novelty in the strategic video games apps: we have to look at the side-features if we want to understand what makes the difference to your kids. Ask your kid to explain to you how Clash of Clans works and why he or she is excited about this game. Anne Livingston, author of a book about Digital Parenting, had such a conversation with her 10-year-old son and shared her findings in her Parent’s Review of Clash of Clans. I did the same with my 14-year-old son and I’m glad to share my experience with you.

What does make Clash of Clans so attractive and addictive to your children?

Many features make Clash of Clans so attractive to kids and teenagers:

—Easy access and very low entry level

—Fast learning curve

—You can reach the middle levels with real ease, but it requires more and more involvement as you go up

—It’s colorful, villages seem alive

—Each new level gives you new features, so it’s a never-ending discovery

But the feature that really makes your children stick with the game is the social one.

We live in a Social World.

Clash of Clans has a very strong social feature. Players are allowed to chat in a global chat and a clan chat — restricted to your clan’s mates. So children meet new people, create clans with their close friends, and they interact in the chat.

As you are going to read from my experience, the clan chat feature is the real game changer here, and it converts a usual strategic video game into a real social platform.

The scenario.

The Social Worker introduces Alex as a 14-year-old boy who spends lot of time on his smartphone. Too much time, the mother says. He’s reported to avoid school and social life except for his online activity. They say he’s shy, and they find hard to communicate with him.

The first encounter.

The day I meet Alex he holds his smartphone, and he keeps playing a game on it.

I keep a constant eye on him when the three of us; the Social Worker, the mother, and I, try to involve the boy in the “Ivan is going to take care of you for a while” event.

He replies by monosyllables and grunts, while he keeps playing the same game: Clash of Clans.

I see it’s a formal event, and I know the boy won’t lower his barriers: I need an informal meeting in order to establish a real connection with him.

The next encounter.

The second meeting is at home, and I ask to be left alone with Alex. His mother forbade him to use his smartphone. While I’m talking with him I see he’s still too shy to talk.

I extract my smartphone, have a look at him, then I say “Oh, nothing important: it was just a notification from Clash of Clans.”

His eyes sparkle.

I ask “Do you know Clash of Clans?”

The story so far.

You can take it as a tactical advantage: it’s just giving you more options to kick-start a conversation with your children.

It’s now been many months and we still meet in my office each week. We talk about his feelings, his desires, his fears. But the first 10 minutes of our sessions have the same opening: he asks me to let him have a look at my village, and eventually he makes some fixes to make it stronger.

Sometimes I ask for suggestions, too.

The key that opens the door.

It may be a game, an application, a new social platform: so long as they are part of life to your children, they are keys for you. Your kids were born in the Digital Age, a world where the Web is everywhere and it’s taken for granted. They don’t discern the Real Life from the Virtual Life; these are different nodes of the same System: the True Life.

You can take it as a tactical advantage: it’s just giving you more options to kick-start a conversation with your children.

What if I don’t know what apps my kids are using?

Remember your kids don’t always tell you about their online activity. This is why you may want to use a Parental Control Software, not to control but to monitor what your kids do online. Use this information to kick-start useful conversations with your kids and feel connected.

After you have negotiated about the use of this software, and your kid is good with it, it’s very easy to say something like “I see you’re playing X. It seems nice: can you explain me how it works?”

Several steps, one ultimate goal.

Your ultimate goal is to establish a rich relationship with your child. You accomplish it by following several sub-goals:

—Find a channel that allows you to enter his world

—Learn more about that channel

—Make that channel be your first common ground, then you can expand your conversation

While you manage this process, please keep in mind the following principles:

—Real Life and Digital Life are the same for your children

—Your children don’t merely play: they make significant experiences

—Children like to be helpful: don’t hesitate to ask them for information and suggestions

—While you work this way, always remember the main goal

—Be genuine and be interested! Don’t pretend you know everything about the app you are using, and don’t be afraid to ask them to teach you

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