Are setting video game limits important. Are they worth the battles and ill-will. The above chart fills me with fear. It is the average number of hours a week that children aged 2-10 in the US spend on different activities. Considering how some do little or none, that must mean some are spending far more. The screen time, not just gaming of older children, in research by the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention is even more striking. I suggest you look at the data on the link. It is astounding. We must also remember that not all screen time and gaming is bad. It can have some very positive social effects. We discuss the advantages and disadvantages of computer games here and here. The data on problem solving and finger movement is not that convincing but sitting down with my son to go on a Minecraft adventure is great fun for both of us. Look at it as a board game on a screen. Join them in their world and enjoy their stories as they are the experts. If they start programming, such as for instance Python in Minecraft, making a server on a Raspberry Pi or even organising an online meet up, these are transferable skills to be celebrated. There is a whole department at Oxford University that looks at the effect of the internet on child development. Their research is fascinating. It is data based, and will make you question some of the assumptions that you have.
Look at introducing gaming to your children in the same way you might consider introducing alcohol. Like social media, we must remember that these companies spend billions on each game, so children come back to them. As a result, stand with your child against a ‘common enemy’ rather than blame them. This is a far more constructive process and has far better results. To put my cards on the table now, we have no X-box during the week, and two hours each day at the weekend and holidays if a day out id not planned. So probably three days in four. The phone is more difficult, but using the settings, my son and I have agreed to a 30-minute limit on games. I am still struggling to get a handle on watching pointless YouTube videos, but awareness and progress has been made. He is now aware how too much gaming can make him feel, and in the holidays, he will factor in his own breaks of a few days when he feels it is becoming addictive. I am very proud of him as he is moving to self-regulation and awareness. Video gaming limits were part of this to set appropriate levels, but they were a conversation and justified rather than imposed. If you say two hours, and this is the most they do of anything, it is an easy argument to win as it is obvious!
As you can see, this is a subject that is very dear to me. I have seen first-hand and regularly the problem with not imposing video game limits in this and the upset that it causes. The hidden phones and the tantrums. In a professional capacity I have seen children who are so physically and mentally exhausted that they cannot function. Like almost everything, a constructive and open dialogue is essential. In a workshop I was involved in with around 50 sets of fathers and boys, video gaming limits, with screen time in general, was by far the biggest issue raised. The boys, who were 12 and 13 spoke eloquently about how the issues was not really gaming in isolation. Some were clearly struggling with addiction, but many were using them to escape and relax, in a way we might scroll social media or watch TV. Or even have a glass of wine. Others, it was simply out of boredom and the instant gratification that they offer.
Not All Gaming is on a Console
We are looking in this article very much at consoles. Something that your child has to sit down with. This is relatively easy to manage and observe. It is hopefully in a room you can see and it takes the act of turning it on. You can manage it’s use by having the controllers in a kitchen draw for instance. Smart phones now have many games on them. This is different battle as they can be played at school and when doing homework. Using the settings on your child’s phone allows you to limit some of these to say 30 minutes a day. These can be worked around with web based games, however it will allow you to monitor the amount of screen time your child has on their phone and help form discussions. When a child sees they have spent three hours on their phone they are often in disbelief and it helps frame a discussion together about managing their screen time.
What Does Addiction Look Like?
Many children can play video games in moderation without negative consequences. Screen addiction, or ‘screen dependency disorder‘, in children is a diagnosed disorder. They might not all need to limit their video game play. In the same way many of us can drink alcohol. In a similar way you might introduce alcohol to a child, it is healthier to moderate gaming in a similar way.
However, parents understandably get concerned when a child neglects homework or stays up all night to play video games. For many it is the first contact with an addictive medium that they have. The signs are like any addiction. Some parents observe that their child rarely interacts with others in person and spends all their free time playing video games. When approached, many children begin to conceal their play’s extent. They may also disappear with their phone to play on that. Anyone who has been involved in any addiction intervention in adults will recognize this behavior. Just as it is in children and we don’t understand it, the first recourse should be concern rather than anger.
Whether the objective is to prevent a child’s gaming from becoming excessive or to rein in an activity that appears out of control, there is a need for practical, parent-tested tactics for gaining control over the role of video games in your child’s life. Video game time limits are an essential part of this.
Limiting Video Games
For children and younger adolescents, you, as the parents, have the say in establishing suitable video game limits. We are, as always, the adults in the room. Easy to say but not easy to do. This might be why most children and adolescents report that their parents have no regulations about media use. Here are some real-life recommendations for reducing and helping your child control their gaming:
Set clear gaming boundaries for your child. Pediatrics recommend limiting screen usage on school days to 30 to 60 minutes and on non-school days to two hours or fewer. They suggest even lower restrictions of less than one hour of total screen time per day for children under the age of six, and they encourage parents to establish the proper amount of time for video games and other electronic media use for children above the age of six. There are many online planners to help parents determine screen time. Some days per week should be reserved for non-gaming, regardless of the appropriate boundaries. It is essential to ensure that your child develops, maintains, and appreciates activities that do not include screen time. When these times are is also important due to the importance of a good nights sleep.
Ring fence gaming time. Although it might sound counter-productive, if you ring fence gaming time, for example 2 hours on Saturday afternoon, it can make conflict disappear. By introducing video game limits in this way, you are showing your child that you appreciate that it is important to them. 2 hours is a longtime, and it removes any need for long discussions about ‘when can I go on’. As to when they might be, if in the morning you are going for a walk or seeing a relative, it removes the anxiety the child may have. They know it will happen in the afternoon so can relax. This might seem like pandering to an addiction. But it is modeling how to control something that might seem overwhelming. You have shown them that it is possible to control what we do. That there is not a straight line of bad and good.
Identify additional recreational pursuits. If your child is disappearing off to the X-box it could simply be they are bored and want a buzz of instant gratification. Games are created with levels that are quick to conquer and they can become ‘skilled’ at them relatively quickly. Gaming can be performed practically at any moment with minimal planning and effort. For instance, on phones, a game is only one click and one second away. So, when your child has nothing else to do, games are always there to occupy his or her time. Without clearly defined video game limits they can creep in during any downtime.
Obviously, there are activities that you can do as a family. If you have made the promise that they will get some time later and you have a relationship built on trust, don’t feel bad simply kicking them outside. We have been led to believe that ‘playing on the street’ has inherent dangers. I have worked in the care home system where there was not the opportunity for gaming due to the number of boys and lack of computers. We used to tell the boys to go out into the garden. They would sit on the wall dazed for about 5 minutes but then a game of football or chase would develop. My son will head round to a friend’s house, they will come back, and then just ‘hang out’ in the garden, climbing trees or messing around on the trampoline. All it needed was that initial push.
Consistency of Video Game Limits is Essential
The digital babysitter is great. Although you might resent it, do you fall back on it? Consistency is important. And that all parents in the household agree as a parenting plan must be joint. As above, if you need a few hours to ‘get stuff done’ you can arrange these to be done while your child is gaming in the times that you have set aside. It is especially good if you want to head out for a run as they are safely sat in one place at home. We talk about appropriate ages to leave your child at home here. If you let things slip once that is fine, just explain that it was a one off because of a reason. However, if you regularly don’t enforce the rules, they are meaningless and will just set up confrontation. There is more on what constructive discipline looks like here.
Final Thoughts on Video Game Limits
The aim of parenting is to prepare your child for independence. And trust that your instincts are probably right. The analogy of introducing your child to computer games in the same way as you might to alcohol is valid. Banning them and making them ‘evil’ can lead to deceit. Unfettered access can lead to problems. The tell-tale sign, like an alcoholic, is if your child ‘needs’ to go on them, and if they are not playing, they are thinking about it. Rather than chastise them, talk to them about why they may feel that way. Explain the importance of some ‘game free’ days and how to notice the signs. It is entirely feasible that by their early teens they are able to regulate themselves that it no longer becomes a point of conflict.