Ready or Not Here it Comes

A Parent’s Guide to Video Games

As your parental call of duty, you need to monitor what kind of games are purchased, make sure there are no TVs or game consoles in their bedroom, and set parameters on their video game usage.   Try using two minutes of reading time per one minute of screen time and see if that gets your kids to read.  Children need to play outside, read books, and use their imagination to develop. Here is a parent’s guide to video games.

1. Consider not buying a gaming console.
The vast majority of children over eight years old own their own video game system—more than one when you include hand-held systems such as iPod Touch, Playstation Portable, and Nintendo DS.  The risk of video game addiction increases dramatically when your child owns a system because it is much harder to control the amount of time spent due to ready availability.  As with any other behavioral addiction, easy and frequent access to the object of obsession makes it more difficult to avoid potential pitfalls.  Therefore, if you fear your child might become addicted, seriously consider NOT purchasing a system.  They can still play once in a while at a friend’s home.  If you do own a system, consider purchasing only group games and treating the system like a board game that is kept in a box and brought out periodically for an hour or so then boxed up and returned to the closet.   Such approaches can drastically reduce the risk of obsession without totally eliminating games from a child’s experience.

2.  Don’t start young.
The earlier a child begins playing electronic games, the sooner he or she is exposed to the patterns that lead to addiction. Children who become accustomed to junk food lose their appetite for healthy eating.  In the same way, kids also “acquire a taste” for how they want to spend their recreational time.  Those who develop patterns of “natural” play rather than “virtual” play are more likely to become well-rounded, happy adolescents.  Those who are introduced to the dopamine inducing “high” of prolonged video game play often become bored with any other form of recreation. Generation Z is growing up with screen access to everything, but try to monitor when they start.

3.  Use a reward system.
Many parents admit that the promise of video game play time is the only thing they have found that can successfully motivate their child to do homework, chores, and other productive activities.  And while the benefit of completed school assignments and other tasks may seem like a positive aspect to video game obsession, the long-term negative consequences far outweigh any short-term gain.  Depending upon video games as a child’s sole motivation for responsible activities subconsciously reinforces the notion that completing a job, reading, learning, etc. are necessary evils to endure rather than rewards in and of themselves.  Other motivational rewards, such as money, an ice cream date with dad, a movie outing, etc. are far more effective and avoid feeding a propensity toward video game obsession.  Try using 2 minutes of reading time per 1 minute of video game time; if your child reads for 30 minutes, that equals 15 minutes of screen time.

4.  Turn it off.
When asked to shut off the video game system, it is a rare child who quickly obeys and ceases play.  Invariably your child will respond instead with a plea for “just one more level” or more time to defeat the current villain before they can “save my game.”  As a result, many parents end up allowing their child to spend much more time playing video games than they intended or often realize.  As one recovering video game addict said, “If you say you intend to restrict the amount of time a child spends, you better ask yourself whether you can really do it.  Kids are very good at pushing and pushing for more time.”  Time flies when kids play video games in part because we parents fall into the “one more level” trap.

5.  Stick to your gut.
Many parents have a bad feeling about the amount of time their child spends playing, talking, and thinking about video games.  There is a nagging sense that allowing so much video game time may have long-term negative consequences.  But you may second guess the feeling, writing it off as being old fashioned or too strict.  “It’s just the way kids are nowadays!”  Besides, they don’t want the inevitable conflict that would come from restricting or removing the game system.  But video game addiction affects a growing number of kids, especially boys.  You know your child better than anyone else and we encourage you to trust your gut and intervene if needed to help your child live a better life.

“Do you understand why I am putting restrictions on how much you play video games?