Are your kids playing too much Fortnite, Minecraft, or other video games? If so, you are not alone. Many families describe how their kids obsess about game play and spend far too much time with their screens. Our team at LearningWorks for Kids will give you five tips for too much screen time, but first we want to identify some of the larger issues for you to consider.
Video-game and other screen time is just another form of play- we refer to it as digital play- and it is an important part of what 21st century kids do. Kids can learn problem solving, executive-functioning skills, and social-emotional skills from good screen time, even in games such as Minecraft or the new Smash Bros. Ultimate. Good games are digitally nutritious and cognitively challenging but should not be the only thing your children do to build their brains. The use of video games and other digital media in 2019 is primarily social in nature, and keeping your kids totally restricted from these tools would distance them from their friends and might cause them to become deceptive with you about their screen time.
Parents get all kinds of advice about managing their children’s screen time. Before you listen to our team at LearningWorks for Kids (or anybody else), consider your own family sensibilities and determine what is important to you as a family. Be certain to communicate with your kids about decisions regarding screen time and spend time listening to preteens and teens about the role that screen time, video-game play, and social media play in their lives. Be sure your expectations around screen time fit you – modeling is the most important factor in the management of healthy screen time management – and that healthy screen time is an ongoing conversation and topic in your home.
Here are five tips for addressing screen time:
- Do not fully restrict access to screens due to their importance in communication with others. While you probably did not frequently play video games or use computers when you were growing up, this does not mean that doing so is problematic for your kids. Modern children at the very least need to have digital-literacy skills to navigate their world. Beyond that, access to digital media facilitates friendships with peers, shared interests, and great opportunities to learn.
- Consider the type of digital media in decisions. Create clear and reasonable limits for different types of digital media. Parents might choose to monitor screen time or the number of messages their children use. Do not set arbitrary limits based upon what you read here or elsewhere but take into account a child’s school, social involvement, and other interests. For example, there is often less concern when kids do well in school, and limits on screen time are much less of a concern for children who are doing well in these arenas.
- Be thoughtful about this topic and have regular but flexible limits on screen time. Permit yourself to allow children more time on any given day. A schedule might allow screen time for an hour a day during the school week and two hours a day on the weekend but could also include exceptions for long family car trips, vacations, or sick days. It is important that this flexibility remain in the parents’ hands and that children understand that bugging, begging, and pleading for more time is not going to work. This is a good strategy for children who might tend to abuse limits if they are not very clearly and regularly set.
- Make them think while they are playing. Look for video games and technologies that require brain power. Many video games such as Minecraft, Portal 2, and Little Big Planet encourage problem solving, executive functions, and creativity and require persistence and other cognitive resources such as the ability to analyze and adapt to new situations. Playing such games can be a good workout for the brain. However, it is important to make sure that games are age appropriate for a child. While games such as Overwatch and the Call of Duty series require significant cognitive resources for in-game success, they are clearly inappropriate for younger children.
As kids get older, gradually encourage autonomy in screen time. It is important that children learn how to monitor their use of digital media and technology as they get older. Autonomy might help in choosing what to play and when to play it and might also be observed in children independently arriving at an appropriate and meaningful balance between technology use and the other activities in their lives rather than having a parent tell them what to do. However, parents should not hesitate to step in and make rules when necessary. In particular, parents need to be very strict when overuse, obsession, and inappropriate use of technology are observed and should actively set stringent limits at that point.
Looking for even more tips on how to help balance screen time? Check out our article on How Exercise Helps With Too Much Screen Time.