If your child or teenager is hooked on video games, chances are you’ve had more than one confrontation over limits – when, where, and how much is too much. That’s because, like any good parent, you want to set some guidelines for how they can use the games safely and wisely. The question is, how do you sort through all of the issues to make the best decisions for your child and your family?
On the one hand, too much time spent in front of a video screen can be harmful to kids. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids spend no more than two hours per day of total entertainment time in front of a screen (which includes TV, movies, and video games). That sedentary time takes away their precious free time that they could be using to run around outside, talk and interact with friends or adults, or even curl up with a good book. Too much time in front of a TV or video screen can also put a child at risk for obesity, which can create serious health problems. Additionally, some studies suggest that violent games can increase aggressive behavior in kids.
On the other hand, many video games are designed to be educational and some can help improve a child’s skills. Some experts say that video games can help kids learn to follow a complex set of directions, make split-second decisions, solve problems, and master eye-hand coordination. Plus, if you find the right game for a youngster, it could open up a whole new world of interests for them.
If and when you’ve decided that video games are right for your kids, you should have some basic ground rules in place. To get started, consider these guidelines:
Select video games carefully: Read reviews before you purchase or rent games, and understand the rating system. You want to make sure that the content at all levels of the game is appropriate for your family.
Play with your kids: Sit down with your kids and join them as they learn how to play the game, or watch them enjoy beating you as their skills improve. Show them that you’re interested in what they are doing and share their excitement when they master a skill.
Keep video games out in the open: Don’t let them play games in their room (especially not with their door shut). Video games should be played in a common family room where you know what is going on and where you can drop in to watch at any time.
Limit the time spent on video games: Stick to the two-hour limit for all screen time; most likely this will mean less than two hours for video games. Consider allowing them to play video games on one weekday and one weekend day – and always after homework is done, not before.
Pause means pause: Kids are known for getting so wrapped up in a video game that they can’t pay attention to anything else. Make an agreement with them that if you need to talk to them, they must pause the game to hear what you have to say.
Limit handheld game time: Handheld video games can be a lifesaver on long car trips, but they shouldn’t be a substitute for interacting with others at gatherings of family or friends. Use the same set of rules for handheld games that you do for those in front of the TV, limiting the time and place where kids can play them.
Time’s up: Make sure your kids understand that video games are just like any other game in that they are a privilege, not a right. They should enjoy the time they get to spend on games, and when that time is up, give them a chance to enjoy something else.