How Much Video Game Time is Too Much? (Part 3)

Clues on Kids #001-C

In our first article of the series we addressed how video games can hinder emotional connection with family and friends. Video games when left unchecked can rob a child of motivation to participate in everyday life by stimulating the brain in ways not otherwise achievable.

Our second article about video games discussed how they can give your child a false sense of power. Online games can create the illusion of friendships and acceptance that interfere with social and emotional development along with inhibit creativity.

In this issue, we’ll talk about how to allow your kids to play video games with reasonable limits and using them to promote more cooperation.

The last two articles made me look at video games in a new and frightening way! Are you trying to tell me that no one should ever play videogames? Will everyone get dragged into this delusional time-suck?

No… it’s too much part of our culture to expect that you and your children will never play videogames. You probably have a few on your smartphone right now… so do I, to tell you the truth. Like I said in previous articles, not every kid who plays videogames will get stuck in a delayed emotional state. However, to support your child within our media-centric society, perhaps certain limits should be in place to help your youngster have her fun but still develop into a healthy adult.

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Limits? How much time should I allow my kid to play? How do I know when enough is enough? What if she doesn’t like these limits and banishes me to the dungeon of “Terrible, Mean Parents?” AAAAUURGH! Calgon… take me away!

With a little pre-planning and collaboration with your tyke, your kid’s iPod Touch, PlayStation or laptop can be YOUR best friend.

Impossible! You mean my kid’s best friend!

No, I mean YOUR best friend. Videogames can be the golden key to unlocking the cooperation that you long to see in your child. Videogames, monitored properly by parents, can send your kid on a quest to the Kingdom of Responsibility. There he can slay the Dragon of Laziness before returning home with the Magic Sword of Good Manners. Establishing boundaries on video games can be a great life lesson about helping your child find balance, AND understanding the importance of the role it plays in his life.

Balance! We could use some of that around here! His videogames are ALL he wants to do. How do I get him off that machine to do his homework?

Great question! Remember that if your kid is going to have access to screens, then your child’s iPad can be YOUR best friend. The desire to play videogames can help guide him towards being more motivated to earning certain privileges that you both agree upon.

Start with having an honest talk with your child about the changes that you want to see happen and why. Laying down a bunch of rules out of nowhere will hardly ever be received well, most especially if YOU have a habit of not sticking to them.

IF your child is the type that is really, really, really in love with his video games, then you should consider starting slow and easy. Remember that it’s quite harsh to pull someone’s drug out of their hands without giving them an equally satisfying replacement. A very challenging period of withdrawal will come from that approach and will create a lot of resistance and anger. Start S-L-O-W!!! When deftly done, this approach will lead him to realize that there really is more to life than Minecraft.

Below are some helpful suggestions on ways to utilize videogames to nurture a sense of responsibility and accomplishment in him while still setting reasonable limits on gaming. Remember, these are just suggested limits. You may need to adjust them to what will work best with your household or your child’s personality.

First, know in your mind how much time you want your child to spend playing videogames each day. Come up with a REASONABLE time limit and make that your ultimate goal.

How best can we set reasonable limits around video games without our house turning into World War III?

If you are going to allow video games in your house, but you want to set limits, there are several options to consider. No one option fits everyone and the ones listed below may need to be fine-tuned to meet your family’s needs.

Option #1

The ability to play videogames is tied into finishing homework or chores. It’s a simple idea, but perhaps some creativity needs to be used to get everyone on board. Much like we discussed earlier in a previous blog article, Allowance for Teens… Respecting the Almighty Dollar it’s important to create this structure collaboratively with your child so she is vested in the outcome. Handing down your decree unilaterally will not inspire cooperation. Let her feel empowered by helping to create the system. Try these on for size:

  • When homework is done and verified by you, videogames are allowed within your established time limit.
  • Perhaps every minute of helping out around the house or anything else that you want to encourage your child to do on a consistent basis equals two minutes of videogame time. For example:
    • 10 minutes of helping put the groceries away lead to 20 minutes of video game time.
    • 30 minutes of helping to wash the car earn her one hour of video game time.
  • Set down these rules with due dates and times on a chart to help both you and your child to keep track of her progress.

It is highly possible to establish your time limits so it’s not seen as a punishment and more of a natural consequence of helping out around the house.

However, if you use a little clever and creative thinking, this second approach could be an easy way to help expand her interests, which will naturally result in less desire to play video games!

Option #2

If you wish your child would do ANYTHING besides playing video games, then come up with some other activities that you think he’d like to participate in.

Before you let out a big groan thinking about how this plan would play itself out in your home, consider the alternative: Constant and endless nagging to turn the game off. So, if you’re ready to invest some thought and emotion into the solution then you could truly have your WIN-WIN situation.

Examples:  

  1. If you wish that your child would be more physically active, then think of a physical activity he could do or might want to learn to do or would be willing to do WITH you… you might say:

    I’m asking you to try something different. If you try Hapkido for one month, then for every hour you spend in class you can have an extra hour on the weekends playing videogames.

    If Hapkido turns out to not be his thing, then move onto the next activity.

  2. If you think your child would like to learn to play an instrument… you can approach it with:

    I’m asking you to try something new for a little while. If you try learning guitar for one month, then for every 30 minutes you spend practicing you can have 30 extra minutes of video games after dinner.

  3. If you just wish your child would spend more time with the family, you might say something like:

    I’d really love to spend more time with you and I know your videogames are important to you. Let’s say for every 30 minutes you spend hanging out with me (the family), you can have 30 minutes extra on the iPad in the car.

    However, it’s really up to you to come up with some fun activities that the two of you (or the family) can do together.

With any luck, through this tactic he’ll discover another healthier passion and videogames slip nicely into second place and eventually fifth place. Try to find ways to help him be successful with this transition. If you’re asking your child to make a change, then support him by meeting him halfway.

Something to remember is that whatever the trade is for videogame time, it must be equal in importance to your child’s desire to play. You cannot offer 10 extra minutes of gaming for every hour spent riding a bike. He ain’t no dummy! Lastly, if you waiver and don’t follow through, your kid will know that your rules don’t mean anything. Consequently, neither one of you will get the benefit that videogames can bring in offering more peace for your family.

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But I don’t know if I can make my child stick to these deals. It seems like I always resort to yelling and nagging to make him do what he’s supposed to do.

Lecturing or yelling at your child has never brought about a response remotely close to:

"I’m terribly sorry, Mother. I ever-so regret my transgression as it has brought about shame not only upon myself, but upon the entire family. I will henceforth endeavor to make you proud and abide by all of the rules that you have so wisely decreed.”

Okay, maybe you’re right. But how do I get my child to say those words?

You don’t. Your child is just that… a child. Kids don’t have the same ability to internalize values of responsibility and follow through as adults do. Instead, let the videogames do the lecturing for you. Demonstrate the follow through that you want your kids to have. If you enforce appropriate boundaries, the privilege of playing videogames might be all the incentive your child needs to finish her homework, clean her room on time, or practice her piano.

But he has a tantrum and gets so upset if I don’t let him play. How do I enforce these rules without hurting my child’s feelings?

If he doesn’t earn the privilege to play videogames, you must have the strength to turn off the computer and be the calm in the storm that is your child’s big emotions. At these times, his emotions are bigger than he is and he doesn’t fully understand them or know how to contain them. It’s tough for parents to let their kids feel pain. However, your child must be able to experience emotional discomfort like this in a safe place. Disappointments only get worse as kids enter adolescence. It’s important for your child to experience not getting his way all the time and learning to accept it. The way he will do this is through your loving support. Emotional support is not about making the pain go away. Your job is to compassionately listen to your kid as he shares his overwhelming feelings. Your job is to be patient and connect with him, helping him feel safely contained within your empathy and understanding. It’s not about the easy fix… that’s not real life. It’s about helping him navigate through the tsunami of emotions so he can learn to cope with disappointments and learn patience and perspective.

If you stay calm and can be the emotional support that your kid needs while his brain is overflowing with big emotions, maybe your child will eventually learn to accept life as it comes, with composure and insight. Perhaps he’ll also learn to get his homework done on time.

Geez! Emotional stunting, let them be bored, videogames are like drugs! Any other insight you want to add to the topic?

Well… since you asked, yes. It’s important to remain aware of your own constant check-in with your mobile device of choice. You cannot ask your child to stop playing videogames all day if you’re going to post on social media or respond to texts every chance you get. It would be hypocritical of you to demand less screen time from your daughter if you can’t carry on a full conversation with her without quickly checking an email. The message you will inadvertently give her is that her conversation with you is NOT worth your uninterrupted time. Your kid gauges how often you check your texts, and watches you as you see the screen light up with a new message. How do you react? Your child takes it all in. How tied are you to your own tablet or mobile phone? And then consider what it is you’re asking your child to do with hers.

(updated article from November 2007)

Remember that children are born to make mistakes... That's how they learn.


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Contact Us For More InformationIf you have more questions or would like more information, please contact our Clinical Director, Kent Toussaint at 818.983.7728.