The classroom is great for reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic. But for a dose of street savvy, get your kids to a poker table.
The well-known benefits of a regular poker game for adults apply to kids as well: cementing friendships, acquiring social skills, developing critical thinking and honing interpretive and analytical skills.
As Bill Gates says of his college-age poker exploits: "In poker, a player collects different pieces of information -- who's betting boldly, what cards are showing, what this guy's pattern of betting and bluffing is -- and then crunches all that data together to devise a plan for his own hand. I got pretty good at this kind of information processing."
And Ole Bill ended up doing pretty well for himself.
There's even more in the game for youngsters. They will:
Bond with family. Finding activities that you can enjoy with your teen is always a challenge. Here's one that can bring you together in a way that is both fun and stimulating, and will open up an easy conversation.
Strengthen their memory. Memory plays a large part in learning the rules of poker, the ranks and suits of the cards and the order of hands, and recalling how players have played certain hands in the past.
Learn to consider risks. Most adults have a pretty good idea of the relationship between risk and reward. Not so teens. They'll jump off a bridge without checking the water's depth. Playing poker offers a discourse in probabilities and it reinforces the perils of going all-in with any endeavor.
Practice money management. Poker is all about using your chips wisely. To win in poker, as in life, you must preserve your assets so that they are available when the best opportunities arise.
Poker is on a roll, as I reported in TIME magazine. It has a cool new image and the average age of successful players is coming down -- to 26.2 years old at the final table of the 2010 World Series of Poker's Main Event. A lot of future poker champs are cutting their card-playing teeth while in their teens.
Should teens gamble? No. Games of a chance like the lottery, slots, and roulette are a sucker's bet. Kids should not be allowed near them with real money. But when played well, poker is a game of skill. That's one of the arguments behind mounting efforts to legalize online poker in the States; it's also the view of the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society, which is headed by notable educators who want to use poker in the classroom as a teaching tool.
Some of the greatest minds on Wall Street play poker -- Bill Miller and Bill Gross, to name two -- and they say the game makes them better investors. Meanwhile, kids who develop their poker skills one day may have a leg up landing a job in finance.
Kids don't have to play for money. Eventually they'll want to, of course. But with a little practice by then they'll have become seasoned enough to know how to stay within their means -- and will have gotten an education in math and interpersonal skills for free.
Photo by JoeLogon from Flickr