For Teenage Boys: Everything Is A Game

Teenage boys are boys and therefore everything is a game

I’m going to repeat that: for teenage boys everything is a game.

This can be really confusing for grown ups, especially when the boys are being a big pain. They’re thinking, “what’s the game with him being . . .” and you fill in the blank for his behavior.

To get a grasp on everything is a game, it’s necessary to take a look at boys before they’re teens.

For little boys, everything is about play and strength. They are constantly playing at something: they play with each other, they play by themselves, and they play in relationship with other people, including grown ups . . . play . . . play . . . play.

As boys, the fun is in the play: playing the game. They want to win. They really don’t want to lose. But if they do, they tend to move on because the game is always re-starting

Now there is a special game called “getting his way,” but that’s a topic for another time.

As I said, this reality that in a boy’s world everything is play that life is a game, can be hard for grown ups to grasp because their view is they’re trying to accomplish a task, like get him dressed and off to school or his clothes or toys picked up and put away or his homework done or him get ready for bed.

Their world view is “getting him to do” something.

His world view is entirely different. Getting the task done is not on his radar screen. He does not live in a world of “tasks.” He’s playing (whatever he’s playing) and his playing is integral to everything he is doing. So if he’s “getting something done,” he’s at the very least trying to play through it.

For boys the games are about strength & power: who’s strong . . . who isn’t . . . who’s winning . . . who’s losing . . . who’s in control of what’s going on . . . who’s not . . . and who’s getting what he wants . . . and who’s not.

Why? Because he’s learning the fundamentals of strength & power and of human interactions & relationships. It’s a game for him . . . because he is a boy.

Once a boy has entered teenage-dom, he’s learned everything there is to learn from the “who’s strong . . . who’s not” game and all of the family interactions that revolve around it. He’s got it down.

So that virtually every interaction with someone in the family, especially his parents, is an expression of the game (it’s true with other grown ups as well).

He gets:

. . . the reaction he expects
. . . the attention he expects
. . . the outcome he expects

It’s a game and as far as he’s concerned he’s in charge of the rules and like all teenage boys, when a game goes as predicted, when the outcome is expected, three things are going to happen.

. . . he’s going to get bored

. . . he’s going to try and change it (and fail)

. . . and he’s going to do it again . . . and again . . . and again

It’s a hold over from boyhood this invisible element of “winning and losing” to everything he does. He’s playing . . . it’s a game . . . he’s a boy . . . and that’s what boy’s do . . . play games

He starts exercising his game skills to upset the “apple cart,” to challenge the “rule of law” and the “order of power” and exploit the weaknesses in the other players. He does it so masterfully that the grown ups are more often than not either brought to their knees in frustration, or to a state of explosive chaos experiencing a “loss of control” that drives them nuts.

And they just cannot figure out, “why does he do that?” . . . fill in the blank for the “that.”

It’s because it is a game and at this point he’s the master of the game.

Firstly, an important clarification about “games.” Because the word has been part of our popular psychology culture since the mid-1960’s, it has taken on a negative, judgmental flavor. When we think someone is “playing a game” with us, there is bad intentions involved: he’s consciously, purposely trying to do something to us.

In general, I am not using “games” in that popular psychology way. I am using game in a similar but simpler sense. As a boy, everything is about play and play is a game and the game has this simple format for him: who does what . . . when . . . where . . . and how.

Because he has been around you his whole life, he has “studied” who you are and what you do absorbing it all into his world of play and games. His behavior and his interaction with you have a “game” quality for him. Like all games there are rules, essentially unwritten (and unconscious). It has a beginning . . . a middle . . . and an end. The “pay-off” is an exchange of “energy” or attention and the learned and expected outcome.

There is, in my many years of experience, more often than not, no malice or ill-intent. He’s a boy. Boys play games.

The purpose of this column is to alert you to his reality - the world of “boys and games” so you can firstly understand it and secondly begin to become more effective in interacting with him instead of suffering in ignorance.

©2012 Ted Braude

Related: Issues, Books

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Youth is wholly experimental. - Robert Louis Stevenson


Ted Braude is an expert on boys: known as “the dragon tamer” and the “boy whisperer.” A mentor, a martial artist, a musician, a writer and a counselor, he brings boys into young manhood. No small feat. He serves their interests, goals and desires, helping them become who they want to be. He’s kind of a “dream wizard.” As a mentor/counselor, he’s served boys in their quest for manhood for 30 years. As a martial artist, he is a second degree black belt in the Japanese martial art Aikido, training with the internationally known Ki master Katsumi Niikura Sensei. As a musician, he has been a professional and amateur multi-instrumentalist and singer since he was six years old. As a writer, he is a former columnist for The Detroit Free Press and The Daily Tribune newspapers and a host of journals & publications. He is the local point man for Boys to Men Mentoring Network in Michigan, a remarkable program that joins boys and men together in a community bringing the boys into young manhood and he is the Director of the BoysWork Project. Royal Oak, Michigan. Contact Ted at E-Mail or or 586-825-6483. An audio version of this column is available at

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