Minecraft interferes with my teen’s homework and other responsibilities. How can we even begin to set limits on Minecraft when he can even play it on his mobile phone?
It can be daunting to think about the fact that many of our children have devices that out-perform the computers we were using before they were born. Kids have easy access to the Web and are able to play large video games on their smartphones. Today’s parents face the dilemma of how to stop our kids from ignoring their responsibilities and playing unhealthy amounts of video games like Minecraft. And honestly, setting limits on Minecraft and other games and apps can seem impossible.
What can parents do? First of all, I strongly advise that when kids are given these powerful devices, a very serious conversation takes place about what is appropriate and inappropriate use. This is not a one time conversation, but an ongoing discussion about understanding the responsibility of owning such a powerful tool. Modeling appropriate use of your smartphone, including the amount of time you are using it and where and when can be extremely helpful.
Generally, I encourage parents to give teenagers the benefit of the doubt so that they have a chance to demonstrate that they are capable of responsible use of technology. But when kids demonstrate that they are not ready for this level of responsibility and setting limits on Minecraft and other games becomes a necessity, there are number of options.
First and most drastically, you can exchange a smartphone for a simple cell phone that does not have Internet access or any advanced features. Another option is to simply limit your child’s use of the smartphone so that his is unable to take it with him to school and essentially only has access to it when you need to be able to communicate with him. A third option is to use some type of monitoring service that allows you to track your child’s phone habits. Many of these parental controls let you check how long your child is on the phone, who they are calling, and even monitor texts and social media streams. Some of these services even keep records of communications that appear to be temporary such as images and texts sent through services like Snapchat. Check out the tools in this link.
Many mobile carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile have great parental control tools. You might also try an app like Screen Time I recommend that you choose to use these tools only after your child has proven that it is necessary to monitor them that closely. Even then, I encourage you to inform them that you’ll be using these monitoring tools, checking what they are doing, and discussing it with them. Unfortunately, there are children who need this level of supervision, and without “big brother” — or more realistically mom or dad — checking on them, they will make poor decisions about the use of digital media.
When the problem is simply that your child is spending too much time playing Minecraft, I don’t recommend these types of monitoring tools as your first course of action. Rather, go back to a discussion about use of a smartphone. Set limits either by owning the smartphone yourself and giving it to the child when needed, or using some of the parental controls to shut off Internet access and advanced services at specific times of the day. Insure that homework is getting done before construction is being completed on Minecraft. Keep in mind, as well, that playing Minecraft with their friends, on the phone or otherwise, tends to be a very social activity. Look at it as being similar to how kids 20 years ago spent hours talking with friends on the phone, with the added benefit of engaging in a mutual activity that exercises their thinking skills, rather than an activity that is detrimental to their mental and emotional health. This link contains three good resources with practical suggestions for balancing a child’s game play and other activities.
Featured image: Flickr user Steven Saus