Is your child playing video games instead of doing schoolwork? Is he avoiding social situations—and is his behavior worsening as a result of constant gaming? I’ve heard the desperation and concern in the voices of many, many parents whose kids seem to spend all their time playing video games.
As one parent said, “I worry that my son might be addicted. When I shut the game off, he freaks out and goes ballistic! I just don’t know what to do.”
If you’re worried about the amount of time your child spends gaming, you’re not alone. Indeed, it is a frequent topic that we hear about from parents in our Parent Coaching calls.
What’s more, in 2010 the Kaiser Family Foundation surveyed 2,000 children ages 8-18 in 2010 and found children’s screen time totals an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes per day. Do the math: that’s more than 53 hours per week in front of a screen—more than a full-time job!
But understand that even if your child is playing a lot of games and gets angry when you set limits, it doesn’t mean he has an addiction. In fact, while there is much buzz about “video game addiction” these days, it’s not yet recognized as a true disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.
In this article I discuss how you can set some limits on your child’s gaming. I also give you some simple guidelines to help figure out whether or not your child’s video game use could become pathological—or in other words, unhealthy or addiction-like. Finally, I’m also going to reveal some well-kept secrets your kids don’t want you to know about their game systems. You’re going to love it, although your kids may not!
As a parent of a child who plays video games, computer games, or games on handheld devices like cell phones, it’s important to take a look at your child’s overall functioning at home, at school, in their social circle and their mental or psychological functioning. First, let’s take a moment to consider some positives about video games: Some games are educational, some promote physical activity, and when played with others games can help children develop the skills of sharing and cooperation. Video games can also foster resilience and they can even help to strengthen children’s problem-solving skills and patience in challenging situations.
Now I know there are many of you out there who are really struggling with your kids’ video game use and see no positives in it whatsoever. This is a really tough place to be. Video game designers create the games to be highly engaging and to make the user want to keep playing. Children especially can have a very hard time stopping once they get stuck in the positive feedback loops (or reward cycles) these games create. Here are some things to look for that might mean your child’s video game use is becoming unhealthy:
So what can you do to limit your child’s video game playing and create healthy boundaries around it? For some of you, this will be more challenging than for others. Some kids are much more deeply involved with video games and setting limits in these cases will be harder.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
If most of the above examples sound like your child, or if your child becomes destructive, aggressive, threatening or violent when you try to enforce or set limits on their gaming, it might be helpful for you to talk to someone in your area who can work directly with you and your child as you make changes. This might mean talking to your child’s pediatrician or working with a local therapist to determine what kinds of changes are appropriate, how to respond to negative behavior, and how to effectively enforce your limits with your child.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting video games to one hour per day. And while it can be tempting to dramatically cut back your child’s access to games, or want to remove them from your home altogether, it might be more helpful to start off slowly. Let your child know you are starting to question whether video games have a place in your home because they seem to cause a lot of problems. Offer a couple specific examples, such as “When I tell you it’s time to turn them off, you use abusive language. And, your grades have gone from B’s and C’s to D’s and F’s since you started playing _______.” Let your child know that instead of getting rid of the games right now, you’re going to try a new rule first—and that their ability to follow that rule or not will help you determine if the games stay.
Let your child know what guidelines you are going to be using to determine if video games are working out or not. James Lehman talks about four questions you can use to assess a new limit in your home:
You’ll want to actually go over these questions and answers with your child. For example, you might say, “From now on the video games need to be turned off by 8 pm. If this is working, I’ll see you turning them off by 8 without being abusive, and your grades might even get better in school. If this happens, we’ll keep it going. If this doesn’t work, I’ll see you putting up a fight at 8 pm and continuing to play later than that. If that happens, you’ll lose your game privileges for the next day.”
Work together with your child to find a new technique he can use to try to shut down the video games in a much more timely fashion. For example, maybe you discuss the idea of your child avoiding certain more engaging games at certain times, or set up a reward system for turning the game off when a timer goes off. Also consider how your child can cope with the unpleasant feelings caused by stopping the game, or discuss what other fun activities he can do if he’s bored. Talk these things over with your child to help him be successful.
Let’s face it: the user menus on these games are often not very easy to use. But, I found that most of these companies have websites with instructions for setting up parental controls. And get ready for this, parents: did you know that Xbox is equipped with a family timer? You can program the console to shut itself off after the allotted gaming time has been used up for the day!
Here are some links to some websites for more information about parental controls. If you find the instructions on the web hard to understand, call the company’s customer support phone number for more assistance. If you’re dealing with an Apple product, stop in to your local Apple store for support.
We’ve already talked a lot about setting up some clear structure for your kids—limiting their time on games or having a clear off-time, with some logical consequences or rewards. Some parents also find it helpful to establish regular “family time” during which you do something as a family and there are short-term consequences for not participating. You could also require your child to participate in some sort of group activity once per week, such as a sport, club, or youth group.
The key here is to let your child choose the activity. Until they choose an activity, you might restrict their game use on the weekends to encourage time with friends. Once they choose and begin an activity, let them know they don’t get any access to video games at all that day if they don’t attend a scheduled practice or meeting.
Perhaps the trickiest thing of all is that there is no cookie-cutter formula to determine how much video game time is too much, or what limits and consequences are appropriate for your child. Every child is different. Some children are able to shift into a different activity more easily, while others are more vulnerable targets for the highly rewarding design of the games. In the end you just have to trust your gut and go with what feels right for your family.
For more information please visit:
Am I Being Too Strict? How to Safely Give Your Child More Freedom
Setting Limits with Difficult Kids: How to Get Them to Listen
Empowering Parents Podcast: Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher
Sara Bean, M.Ed. is a certified school counselor and former Empowering Parents Parent Coach with over 10 years of experience working with children and families. She is also a proud mom.
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This article is so helpful, as EP has been on so many other issues we have in our family.
I have another thought, after researching dopamine more (I'm an amateur of course). It seems like most of our "fights" center around video screens - phone, computer, and certain TV content (anime and highly dramatic shows), and he's a different person after he's been "on" for more than 15 minutes. The trouble is getting him off in 30 minutes (he gets worse with more time). He changes, like an addict under the influence of a drug. He is unreachable at that point, denying what he did and said - cussed like a sailor, physically abusive, etc. He will do and say ANYTHING to deny his bad behavior and "get us back" at the time.
He is back to his usual, happy self by the next morning. It is frustrating that he is so unreachable when he needs to be disciplined at the time, but it is so unnecessary the next day when the dopamine overload is out of his system. We would be disciplining two different children, it seems: the "naughty" one while he's unreachable and the "well behaved" one too late.
We are going to zero screen time now; I thought we could de-sensitize him with 30 minute time limits but it's notworking. 30 minutes of TV has been our "motivator" this year so it's difficult to replace but we must.
I am also concerned more now about all the other "outside" influences that attack the dopamine reward centers like drugs, sex, peer pressure, and whatever else is fighting to control our child these days (advertising!). He seems VERY susceptible.
My own drugs of choice were sports and later academic achievement, eventually replaced by a successful business, which, by the way, became an unhealthy obsession that continues today 40 years later. Right now I just want him to have a reasonable chance to make good choices before all the real pressure of being an adult begins.
We will continue with EP's program, it might be time to renew our subscription!
I have an 11-year-old son who fits the bill of every other kid talked about here in terms of his interest in video games. He is allowed around 30 minutes on Wednesdays, 45 minutes Fridays, and an hour-and-a-half over the weekend. This limit is a compromise between myself and their dad, who happends to- in my opinion- have a screen fetish himself.
My question/struggle/whathaveyou is more to do with my husband. His platform of choice is his ipad. An avid reader, most reading is on his ipad; but temptation runs thick when the internet is a click away. He always has his phone running a game even when he isn’t actively using it. Naturally then, my kids want to look, and ask questions relating to a game they all play (on their ipads). My husband has always been this way; the kids see him have no other “hobby” but this.
My question- my 11/y/o has ADHD tendencies,, losing his mind when he loses. Honestly I think it would better with no ipads; both kids do actually. My husband will correct them when they get upset, but while facing his own ipad. How in the heck am I supposed to govern and teach about alternatives to electronic time when my husband is, in my opinion, addicted to screens himself? he cannot go five minutes of, say, waiting for me to use the bathroom while we are at a restaurant on a date without pulling out his phone to play pokemon go or some other such thing. I have brought it up in some ways that that is all I perceive, and h comes back with- this is how I am. It makes it so hard in this day in age.
Hello everyone. I have a bit of a different problem that I need some advice on. My boyfriends 15yr old daughter is a recluse in every way. From an early age she liked video games, of course. From the moment she wakes up til she is told to go to bed, she is playing her games. She does nothing else. Not even looking after herself. From what Ive been told from her father, this is how she spends evety day at home with her mom. Wrapped up in her little world. What I cant believe is that her Mom allows this. Not only allows it but buys her every gaming system or game she wants. Just so she is not bothering her. Ive raised 3 daughters of my own and it just kills me to see this poor girl being shut out of living. My boyfriend, her father sees her once every 5 to 6 weeks and a week or two over Christmas and summers. Hes afraid to do anything about it for fear she wont want to see him anymore. Ive seen her over the last 6 years and she is becoming worse. She has no idea how to converse with people. She rarely speaks and when she does its usually nonsense. She has very basic manners and has no clue how to interact with people or even be in the presence of people. She only eats cereal, chicken fingers, hamburgers or ichiban noodle soup and its made for her. I feel so horrible for her. Shes not getting a chance to be a child and learn basic skills. Apparently her school grades are ok but he doesnt know for sure. She has no friends what so ever and is often bullied. The school she attends keeps her with another boy who is autistic. She is not on the spectrum but Im assuming they are paired together because of similiar social skills. I cant help but to think this is aduse. What should I do? Or should I do anything and just mind my own business? The mother and father dont communicate very well. But this poor young girl needs help.
Any advice is appreciated.
I hear how
concerned you are about your boyfriend’s daughter, and want to help her.
The most effective way to do this will be to talk with your boyfriend, and take
his lead. Ultimately, as her biological parent, it is his responsibility
to communicate rules and expectations to his daughter, and it’s your role to
support him when he enforces those rules when she is staying with him.
There’s not a lot that either of you can do about the way that her mom chooses
to parent or interact with her. You might find it helpful to review our
article, https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/my-blended-family-wont-blend-help-part-i-how-you-and-your-spouse-can-get-on-the-same-page/. Please be sure to check back and let us know how
things are going. Take care.
This website is great. I used it before I discovered that video gaming and internet was what was holding my young adult son back in life.
As he is in denial that gaming is a problem, he does not do anything about it it and thinks he has mental problems. Well they have gotten worse the more he games and the older he gets. He was moderated by us as a child, but now he is an adult has to figure out life for himself learning from the consequences of his actions. As parent, all we can do is stop enabling them and make sure they do many real life activities and promote social intereaction while they are still minors. If they are obsessed by gaming, shy and find no joy in doing other things, I would recommend you ban gaming in your home. Online friends do not count as social interaction. They are probably just other addicts.
I too once had a bout with video game obsession when I was in my teen years. Things quickly got out of hand when extra weight started creeping up on me. Before I knew it I had become Obese. Now being a Certified Fitness Trainer I realized that my constant game playing was maintained by natural habit formations. As humans when we do things a certain amount of times out body's central nervous system adapts to whatever actions that we are doing to continue to be able to survive and keep the action going. Obviously, it is really hard to break a "bad" habit so I found that the most successful way was to introduce a "good habit". i.e. exercise. Before I started exercising I had pretty low self esteem about my body and knew in the back of my mind that I didn't look the way that I wanted. Think about it...even when playing with video game characters there is a reminder of what the ideal male or female should look like (of coarse it's exaggerated on games), wolverine, superman, batman, spiderman, they're all ripped! Finally, I started getting more and more engulfed with the progress that I was making in the real world with my weight and slowly I started dwindling down my game play times. For all the parents out there.....know this... Puberty will trump the obsession. What I mean by that is teen guys always want to go for the "cute" girls in school and want to impress their peers some kind of way. Let's be real they are still finding themselves in this period of life. The testosterone being a male starts to raging and most of the time if the male can change their appearance for the better for the opposite sex they will do that. With all this being said, these days I sat down and designed a program that holds the gamer's playing times accountable with exercises to do for the total amount of gameplay time to diffuse the unhealthy side effects that little activity can have on the gamer. The key thing is that I am not limiting the gamer but holding them accountable and they stay on track due to the reward system I have set up...(I give one member out of their gaming circle a free game). So out of say... 5 members of the gaming circle one of them will receive the reward but they all will get healthier and develop a positive lifestyle habit in the pursuit of the game. Parents have loved my program so far and have had success with it. I won't link my website or advertise here but I will give my name Drake Elliott Fitness
Have A Great Day
Now, before you make the suggestion that my husband and me adopt my nephew (smiling) let me say that we have thought about and talked about it. My husband and I both have very demanding jobs. I'm in marketing and travel a lot and my husband is the director of operations for a well-known company. Time is precious in our household. We spend as much time as we can with our nephews but it’s hard to manage them when they live over an hour away. And honestly I'm very concerned about the gaming but I'm more concern about my nephew's low self-esteem. He constantly compares himself to his freind up the street. He has told me on several occasions "He's better than me because he got better games, a newer system and more money. than me. Why can't I get a new game? Why can't I go where I want to go? He has parents that love him. Why can't I."
B.L.U.F (Bottom line up front) I'm asking for some guidance on this one please... I think in a different environment he would excel but what do you do when that’s not a possibility? Sincerest thanks for your time and feedback.
The best thing you can give your nephews are your time, conversation and love and keep challenging their self negative put downs.
Encourage them to plan projects and achieve them; then plenty of praise. Tell them that you are so happy that he is your nephew and not his neighbour. Perhaps you can stimluate his sense of self worth by together helping others less fortunate than he is ..for example doing something that contributes to a charity for children who are less fortunate. The more social situations you can get him into, the better. Get him to chose products and interact with people in stores, such as local bakery. Keep returning so that he can become used to building a confident relationship with storekeepers etc.
My nephew is very envious of his friend because of the lifestyle the neighbor boy potrays. Per my nephew, his friend comes from a two parent home. Both parents have great jobs and hs friend gets whatever he ask. And to the best of our knowledge all of that is true. I try to encourage my nephew and remind him that things are not always as it seems. I remind him of the blessing he has, such as a family that cares for him. A roof over his head, clothes on his back, food in his mouth. He has many people in the community that look out for him and encourage him. Not to mention the time, money and love that his step uncle (my husband) and myself give. I remind him of his visits at our house... We do puzzles together, read books, ride bikes, go hiking etc. He's fortunate because he's exposed to kids his age, that plays with that does not think about gaming 24/7. Now grant it, my husband and I provide a different environment than he is exposed to at home but we do allow him to play games. The difference is we limit the time and games he can play. He only plays games on our cell phones. We do not own any video games or consoles. We purposely do not have any gaming systems because we believe and encourage education, creativity and fitness.
As stated before, my nephew has a friend that lives up the street. (The boy he stole from) This kid is arrogant and mean to him. He calls him stupid and poor. He talks about his clothes, his hair, you name it. He tells my nephew about how much money his family has and the job that his parents do. (The neighbor boy was mean prior to my nephew stealing from him) My nephew tolerates it because he love to play the neighbor boy's XBOX 360 and the neighbor's parents have no cap about the amount of time they spend playing it. My nephew has a PlayStation 2. It barely works. So he is constantly sneaking down to the boy's house.
I have a nephew whom I believe is addicted to gaming. He's 11 years old, lives
with a mother who works all the time and 2 little brothers (1year old and 7 years
old). Due to his mother's work schedule, he spends the majority of his time at
our grandparents' house. His grades are failing. He's been recycled once
already. He sneaks and order games via computer and cell phones. He's loud
and disrespectful when instructed to put the games away. He sneaks out of
the house to go his friend’s house up the street. He stole a game from
the same friend. Now I know I’m painting an unpleasant picture of my nephew but
he really is a good kid. He's just in a tough situation. My grandmother has Alzheimer.
My Grandfather sleeps all the time and we have an alcoholic uncle that refuses
to leave my grandparents’ house. When my uncle is not in jail he’s drinking religiously. And boy is he a mean drunk. He can get downright abusive when he's had
one too many. My grandparents are enablers. I put my uncle out and my
grandparents let him move right back in. (Shaking my head) So yeah I believe my
nephew deserves a little grace and leniency. He endures a lot.
Too be continued...
I found this post because although my husband and I have and always have had very strict video game/tv rules, my 7 year old son seems overly preoccupied with video games. He is only allowed to play 2 hours on Saturday and 2 hours on Sunday with an hour or more break in between so that it's not continuous. If we have something planned for a weekend day and he won't get his 2 hours, we don't make it up later, he just doesn't get to play that day. Absolutely no video games during the week.
However about 95% of what he talks about is video games, Mario, princess peach, the wii u, the wii, "when daddy beat this part of the game for me", etc etc etc. It is driving us absolutely insane. I am very affirming with him and listen to what he has to say and give him feedback but I honestly could care less and I'm concerned about his obsession. I don't know what to do to get him to talk about other things. I have him read lots of books and we will have a family movie night. We also spend a lot of time outside and at the park, but for some reason he still talks like he is addicted. I don't want to completely get rid of our wii because I know he and my other son love it and enjoy it so much when they do get to play but I feel like his obsession is getting out of hand. He even dreams about Mario etc. Should I seek outside help for him?
I can hear the concern you have for your son and the fear he
may be addicted to video games. From what you have written, it sounds like he’s
following the limits you have put in place and he does a good job following
those limits, even on days when he doesn’t get to play his allotted time
because other things take precedence. It also sounds like he is willing
to do other activities outside of playing video games. Your son may simply be
talking to you about something he really enjoys. It’s not uncommon for kids to
be fixated at times on things they enjoy. If you are concerned his fixation is
beyond what would be expected for his age, you could make an appointment with
his pediatrician or primary care provider. He or she would be able to answer
any question you may have in regards to what would be considered normal for
your son’s age and would also be able to determine if outside help is
warranted. We appreciate you writing in and wish you all the best moving
forward. Take care.
The biggest problem with limiting video games is other
parents. And the kid's music teacher. And school.
What I mean by
this is, I can set limits in my own house, but there are quite a few parents in
the neighborhood who set few or no limits on their kids' video
time. So if we turn off the devices at our house, our son simply
goes to a neighbor's. There is always another neighbor whose kids
are online. I would have to effectively ground the kid to
meaningfully limit his hours. A lot of these parents are nice,
loving, caring people. But I think that many parents are overwhelmed
by the combo punch of long work hours, multiplying devices and media, and
decreasing outdoor space for kids (at least where we live, near Silicon Valley,
where a square inch of dirt is more expensive than gold). In
addition, the ramifying ways electronics enter kids' lives make it more
difficult to set any limits. My kid takes trumpet, a constructive
activity that gives him something besides video games to do, right?
Ah, but increasingly his music teacher gives him the music by an email link to
a website. So he opens the computer to start practicing, then wants
to check to see a video of the song being played, then wants to check another
video.... each of these distractions is very tempting, and each is only a click
away. So it now requires constant parental monitoring - which in
turn increases parent/adolescent conflict - to keep actually on track,
practicing music. The schools have shifted to chromebooks,
and most of the kids' schoolwork is now on this. Again, one click,
and instant, infinite distractioins. In addition, because of the
physical structure of a laptop, with the back sticking up and hiding the screen
instead of open like a traditional print textbook, it is harder for a parent or
teacher to see what the kid is really looking at. One click, and
he's innocently staring at that algebra page again. I have
been in a classroom in a very expensive private school with only six kids in a
class and with a really good, alert teacher in charge of the classroom, where
the kids were more or less constantly skipping over to youtube, social media,
etc., without the teacher really being able to monitor it (I only saw what was
going on b/c I was a guest sitting in the back of the classroom). I
think that computer and software companies have done a very slick job of
selling to schools, in many cases without any solid evidence that all these
devices and software really improve student performance. In
our experience, the computers have been a much worse learning tool than
traditional textbooks, for the most part. All of this really
compounds the problem of setting reasonable limits on video game and other
electronic media use. One of my son's teachers solemnly inveighs
against kids using electronics within an hour or two before bed, but how can we
do any differently? All is homework is onscreen now.
The amount of video games
etc. that kids are getting now is a serious problem, in my opinion.
But devices and access have expanded so rapidly that simple rules like "no
more than an hour a day in our house" have become almost meaningless
Interesting to hear this perspective from a college student,
since i work mostly with middle and high school kids. It seems to
me that print books are slowly going the way of the dodo. And that's a
real loss. Educational institutions, at least, should think twice
about the extent to which they're buying into the "technology is always
better!" mantra. Especially when so many teachers i know are
simultaneously begging parents to limit their kids' screen time.
Reading a print book, for example, is a different kind of experience from
reading online: less bright light in your face, far fewer distractions, more
relaxing. I think print book reading helps promote a capacity for
quiet, sustained concentration that is very valuable, and that you don't fully
get from downloading the same book onto your device. Technology has
plenty of good stuff to offer, of course, and it ain't going away.
But like anything, it can be oversold and overused, and i think that is really
true right now.
Cleaner Daveson Wow. You make my over-a-decade struggle with my 14-year-old sound like it should have been a breeze.
A single mom that has tried almost everything.
@Steph Cleaner Daveson
My son, now an adult, was moderated by us as a child with his game time. As he grew, his studies required more pc time, we could not do that as much. I can now tell you he is a screen gaming internet addict who is still in denial and has huge social anxiety and has not had a job ever, despite being exceptionally bright. We are now not enabling him to continue this way any longer.
Some kids cannot moderate and exhibit mental health issues which are created or made worse by gaming and it is better to withdraw them from video gaming altogether and ban it in the home so they can recover. For a true addict, moderation will never work. Healing can only occur when the brain gets time away from the dopamine rush of gaming. This can take months/years before they will feel the happiness and joy of real life. I learned a lot on the OLGANON website where it has help for parents of children who cannot moderate and whose lives start to spiral down out of control. The website shares the experiences of parent and addicts. There is also a website run by Melanie Kemp called Families Managing Media that has many suggestions on how to get a healthy lifestyle.
Some kids are very seriously affected and parents have found it helpful to send them to wilderness therapy or boarding school where they are strictly kept away from gaming
Sorry the name of the person managing the " families managing media" site is Melanie Hemp !