Setting Limits: Video Game Rage

My son plays video games after school for 4 hours a day. On weekends, his time playing video games doubles, up to 8 hours. We’ve tried to get him to stop but when we instill any kind of limit he goes into a rage. Please help!

Parents often report how difficult it is to reduce the amount of time that their children are playing video games. In this case, there are compelling reasons to make the effort. There is very clear research data that indicates playing video games for more than three hours per day is detrimental to your child’s psychological adjustment and academic performance. So simply getting the amounts below three hours per day, especially on school days, is well worth your effort.

With a 12-year-old, I suggest that you arrive together at general parameters of what you will allow. If your child truly loves video games and he is performing well at school, allowing two hours per school day to play video games is not inappropriate, though it still may be at the higher end of what is recommended. Consider allowing your child to have a bit more video game time on the weekends with a slight reduction during the weekdays. In order to accomplish this, you’ll want to have a very clear discussion about why you were concerned and what you’re planning to do with your child. Help him to become part of the solution rather than view himself as a prisoner of his parents’ whims.

My suggestion for weekdays is relatively simple. Make certain that your child has other activities so that there is simply less time available to play video games. I often refer to balancing video game play with other activities in my discussions of a healthy play diet. I would strongly urge you to ensure that some of this time, at least an hour per day, is spent taking part in some form of physical exercise. Some of this time needs to be spent outdoors. While I don’t encourage over-scheduling kids, some kids who get too engaged in a video game need to have a busy schedule. This might include karate class, music lessons, or being on a sports team.

Another strategy is to make video game play contingent on all homework being completed and grades being kept at a particular level. This can ensure that necessary time is taken to complete school work, again reducing the amount of time available to play video games. Additionally, many parents find that shutting down electronics in their household at eight or 9 p.m.  is healthy for sleeping and engaging in other activities. There is a wealth of scientific evidence that suggests that children (and adults) should not be engaged in  screen-based activities in the hour before they go to sleep at night.

You will probably need to deal with your child being angry about these limits for the first week or two after you implement these strategies. However, most kids are able to adjust. If you follow these recommendations, you are simply modifying what your child loves to do — getting him to play fewer video games and engage in different recreational activities. You might also consider some other technology play that might be more productive. While there is nothing wrong with playing Minecraft, too much of it does not provide any additional opportunities for learning. On the other hand, should your child begin making Minecraft videos, building his own computers, learning coding skills, or joining the computer club at school, there will be other benefits to his engagement with technology.

Featured image: Flickr user Ashley Campbell

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