Do You Limit Your Child’s Video Game Time?

Posted June 23, 2008 by

Photo of elisabeth

This question came in on the blog from a reader named Dawn, and I thought I’d share it with you all. She’s wondering about using the timer on the XBox to limit her kids’ video game time. Has anyone else out there used it?

Here’s Dawn’s question:

“My son (12)also has become a “basement vampire” for about 10 hours a day, if I let him. He wants GTA – the new one and I said no. I have read the ratings and I talk to the guys in the store. My philosophy is that all of his friends have the games but at my house I keep it to No strong language and No nudity at all. There are M rated games that he can watch as long as he is killing aliens or some other nonhuman thing. I read every game before he buys it. I call the parents of his friends and say no GTA. My newest thing is that XBox has a timer. I haven’t used it yet. Has anyone else – some thoughts?”

Here at EP, we’re also wondering how other parents set up video game time in their homes–do you set limits on the time your kids spend playing, or do you take away video games as a consequence for bad behavior? And would anyone out there be interested in a resources page on Empowering Parents that would help you navigate the maze of video games, online concerns and technology? Let us know!


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

Popular on Empowering Parents

Reader Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Chelsea Quirk Report

    Been struggling with video game / TV addiction for years.  Divorced 3 yrs ago, and things settled down the past few months.  Child is now at an alternative school, IEP, etc., on meds for ODD/ADHD, is 12 yrs old & lives f/t with me for the past 3 months.  With the divorce, he became anti-social, anti-family, anti-personal interest in ANYTHING, outside the xbox and his favorite shows.  He complains loudly, if grounded from xbox he (160 lbs) stomps as hard as he can, and the floor is creaking now.  Threats to damage home.  Yelling, screaming.  It adds to his time off the xbox.  He actually loses control of his emotions if he does not have a clear date & time of his return to the xbox to his friends.  He will scream, cry, proclaim I ruined his life, sobs, it’s so ugly.  There are good days and bad, these are on the He is in counseling.  I feel totally removing the xbox WOULD be the solution, BUT every single person he knows but maybe 1 or 2, have xbox and want him to play.  He is popular!  Unless we were moving and making other major changes to occupy his time plus involving an adult male role model…I don’t know if he, I, or his brother can survive removing the xbox.  I’ve tried regulating with the timer, he has 1 day weekly NO xbox, and he has had to earn his playtime with a chore every day.  All fall off after a day and I’m exhausted, I’ve exhausted my attempts.  I have become less emotional, stern, and successful in connecting with him, but he is learning to “forget” his daily IEP goal sheets at school, and stil lworking me over until I walk away.  What he doesn’t get is that I also have no life, and all my energy goes into taking care of me, him and the home.  I am feeling heavily strained.

  2. fish18ish Report

    I am a kid and I dont understand why parents get it into their’ heads that video games are ‘unhealthy’? I understand that its good to spend time socialising and playing sport, and I’m a big fan of plaing and watching sport. At school, I’m amongst the cleverest 2% in the country. I spend between 1-3 hours in front of a mixture of xbox\tablet\phone. My parents do limit me to 2 ish hours of Xbox a day but are fairly lenient and let me use computer\tablet for homework when I need to. They trust me! The world is changing, the young population of this world is cleverer and develping better ideas than any generation of before. Give us a break!!!

    • Chelsea Quirk Report

      fish18ish  Everyone is different.  Some kids can be successful enough to play their games without worry, some lose themselves in the game because they become so addicted (mentally) that they cannot even force themselves to care about anything else.  Food and water even get ignored until they feel dehydrated or starved.  When they aren’t playing, all they want to do is get back on line so badly they fail at all other parts of life because they can’t refocus to anything else.  It’s just that all kids aren;t the same.  🙂

  3. techno26 Report

    I am a kid i play video games avidly and unlike anybody has described i love reading as much as video games. I can go through 3 or 4 books a week. It really depends on what type of kid your child is

  4. fdmq76 Report

    For every 30 minutes off the screen he gets 30 minutes on …only in 30 min increments on screen. He must read at least 30 minutes everyother time he gets on the screen.

  5. Jennifer Report

    It is good to know that I am not the only mom in this boat. My 13 year old’s screen of choice is the computer and it is the always the default activity. 50% of the time I can ask him to log off to do something without too much attitude , but it must be a short something like set the table and then he is quickly back to the paused game. If I ever ask for him to log off and find something else to do, he sees this as punishment and there is much attitude to deal with. I have tried a computer time sign in sheet and have had no success. I actually logged his time on the computer on a school day and it was >5 hours. He is gets all A’s, and is motivated to get all of his homework done at school so he can come home do his 10 minute job and start in on the screen. As he has gotten older there is increased pressure from him to get higher rated games. I am not anti-computer (although he thinks that). I just want some balance in his life. I think someone as bright as he is, may miss his true potential if left to rot at the screen.

  6. Momof7 Report

    Anyone have a gadget they have used and would recommend for setting time limits on computer and tv use? I have heard of different types including devices where a card is swiped for minutes, to presetting by programming minutes by day or week, etc.

    And, FYI, our phone service through Sprint called in and blocked access to online for our youngest son’s phone…so many young boys have internet access on their phones. We discovered the parents were not setting controls and young boys were congregating around phones and viewing unsavory sites. At least it won’t be one of our phones.

    This electronic monitoring requires so much work and I am very out of my league. I think there is a job/service opportunity just waiting to be created and activated. I would hire the help for sure!

  7. Debbie Skinner Report

    We also set a time limit on computer and solo game time on the computer. We are very careful about what types of games our kids play as well. We recently had to block Myspace and Facebook as well because of all the garbage and malwar that was infecting our computer from attatchments our kids were clicking on. We have four teenagers at home and a 10 year old and only one computer, so we keep their comp play time to 20 min. each on weekdays and 30 min. on Sat and none on Sunday(that’s if they are on “Status A” level). If they are in “Status B” then they have no priveleges until they earn the right to go back to “Status A” again. Also, we recently purchased a Wii gaming system which has been great, because it gets the whole family involved and it uses both sides of the brain (at least the sports games do). We have found that our kids would rather play together on the Wii than play alone on the computer anyway.

  8. Julianna Report

    We do not allow our 10 year old to play video games at all when he is at home and greatly limit his exposure at other people’s houses. Even so-called “family friendly” video games are harmful to the frontal lobe of their brain. Studies have shown that because video games require quick reflexes and decisions without reflection. This causes them to be reactive in all situations and to lose the ability to use their frontal lobe or moral center. Might this be one of the causes of our childrens’ misbehaving? Incidentally, my son and one other child were recognized at the end of the school year for critical thinking – the other child doesn’t get to play video games either. My son still has some difficulty with applying himself to his work but I can literally see the results of his frontal lobe working on his face and he is getting better at making the right choices. I encourage people to test what I have said and totally negate the video game time for a period of 3 months – at first it will be very difficult and they won’t be able to think of anything else to do but after a while I guarantee that you will find that your child will start to develop more of an imagination again and make better choices and may not even miss it by the end of that time. By the way, severly limiting “children’s programing” at the same time will help immensely – none of it teaches your child anything these days except how to be disrespectful. I may sound extreme but we have seen the results in our own son – test and disprove me.

  9. Christi Holm Report

    My 16 year old is on a 2 hour time limit in the summer. He occasionally will lose time for attitude or behavior problems. We have also instituted a no video rule during the school week. It has worked well!

  10. Michael gorsline Report

    All I can say is what a great topic. As a Parent Coach and Therapist, this is one that certainly comes up on a regular basis. My take is that there is no one right solution to it, and that usually some collaborative problem solving can go a long way to coming up with reasonable limits. Contingency is also a theme that seems helpful. You can do this for x amount of time you’ve gotten y done.

    Nice topic and nice blog.

  11. JP Report

    My 20 year old (yes, I said 20 year old) step son spends ALL his free time playing video games. He does go to college and have a job, but has no other life. My husband never limited his time on it growing up because it was like the TV was when we were young; a cheap babysitter. I tried to explain it was effecting his lack of social skills, but Step Mom always loses out to the child over here. When there would be video games at someone elses home, he had a difficult time waiting his turn to play, etc. Now, this good looking young man is definitely addicted and nothing we threaten or beg can stop it without upset in our home. It’s pretty much all he thinks about, or talks about. Putting a timer on it when he was young may have helped, but I think the temper tantrum would have made my husband give in just to have peace in the house.

    The violence is a whole other topic. I think it’s disgusting that the video companies have even created them. It’s almost as if the military is in cahoots with them hoping to create little soldiers excited about doing it for real.

  12. Michelle Report

    My son has ADHD and loves the high action of any type of video game. The faster, the better. He could spend hours and hours and hours… My husband is one to let him play as long as he wants because it is something he enjoys immensly. I, on the other hand, have never been a video game fan. I think he should be outside playing, developing childhood memories. We have, however, come up with a win-win in our household. My son earns minutes for doing chores. For example, he receives 5 minutes for making his bed, 10 minutes for cleaning the catbox, 20 minutes for putting the laundry away. He earns double if he does any of the above without being told. However, he also receives deductions for leaving his dirty clothes scattered around, leaving his wet towel on the bathroom floor, and for leaving lights/TV on after he has left the room. Minutes do not carry over to the next day. What he earns on Monday must be “spent” on Monday. This works well for us because he gets his chores done while earning time for what he wants to do. I also give him a five or ten minute warning when his time is running out. That way he’s more apt to obey when it is time to turn the game off.

  13. Mari Rose Report

    If allowed, my 13 yr old son will play non stop with a new game. He saved his money and bought the new XBOX 360, so right now the newness is all important. During the school year I do have a two hour limit on gaming, and mostly it is observed. During the weekends he is good about chores and doing most anything with mom so on his off time games are allowed. He is very active outside and will be skateboarding or playing baseball or golf so I have no problem with his gaming. However I DO take the right to play away if there is a serious problem with behavior (extremely rare) but will also restrict gaming for a week or two if his report card suffers. I have found this to be the only effective restriction to make a point! I will admit I do have sad feelings about taking it away, knowing he loves his games, but I look at the long run and a little point making, to help him be a better person, is worth it.
    I am very fortunate that my son still enjoys spending time with me and will willingly stop playing when I suggest something to do together, even grocery shopping. I must say I rarely have to restrict even though his XBOX 360 is one of his favortie activities.
    I am all for limits. Be it time daily or weekly or even restricting until perfomance or behavior improves.
    I have a nephew who is 37 years old. He works rarely, lives on his mothers couch in her trailer and spends 95% of his waking hours on the computer playing games. My sons will NOT be that way! Do all you can now to show them the right path.

  14. Susan Van Note Report

    We have 13-year old twins and an 11 year old and we do not use a timer although it’s not a bad idea. We do have a limit of 1 hour a day (screen time) during the school year and 2 hours/day in the summer with Sundays free from all screen activities so that we can have family activities like hiking or skiing or just playing box games together. We try to place the focus on having a well-rounded lifestyle which includes going outside to play, socializing, team sports, reading, homework, helping around the house, and just hanging out listening to music or daydreaming. My concern about strict parental policing is that the ownership for self-regulation is not learned. Sometimes they play or watch a bit longer and they usually admit it. Some days they don’t play or watch at all. When they go way over, they know they will loose their time the next day. There are a certain amount of family meetings involved where we process together and we often have to adjust the time based on what we see happening with our current family schedule, but I believe we are teaching our children balance. Although I agree to a certain degree with the gentleman who suggests we “pull the plug on this mind destroying bildge,” the truth is that TV, video games and computers are just a fact of our times. Isn’t it better to teach our children how to enjoy them in a balanced sort of way (however each parent interprets balance) rather than to dismiss technology completely in a world where, let’s face it, it’s is a huge part of their peers’ lives? Can we find a middle ground rather than one extreme or the other? It’s not easy and it’s definitely a continuous issue, but it’s also a learning tool and an opportunity.

  15. Pat Mason Report

    Our boys, ages 13 and 11 earn game time by matching it with their reading time. Max is 1-1/2 hours on non-school days.

  16. John Dalpe Report

    Video games are killing the minds and imagination of our children. I recently spoke with client who creates software for video games. I asked him if he allowed his kids to play? He replied emphatically, “Hell no!”

    1 Hour a week, not a big deal. Anymore than that is a waste of your kids childhood. Look at today’s young adults – you can see the results of “video vampires”.

    Television is just as malignant. It inculcates children with anti-social values and attitudes.

    Save your family and your children! Pull the plug on this mind destroying bildge.

  17. Shannan Report

    My son is 15 and plays the computer as well as the XBox. So a timer on the XBox does not fix the problem. He is also very smart with the computer. How can I limit his time. He is taking a driving class and playing golf for a couple of hours 3 times a week and does a load of laundry as well as unload the dishwasher daily. However, all other waking hours are on those games. I know that can’t be healthy. What do you think I should do. I work full time and he doesn’t really enjoy my prescense anyhow. I try to get him to spend time with friends, but they just play those games. What to do?

  18. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    This is great–thanks, everyone, for the feedback. We hear from a lot of parents out there who are concerned about the amount of time their children play video games. Last week, I spoke with an expert who said that while video game addiction has not been officially classified yet, they are getting close to doing just that. I know other parents who are are worried about video game violence, and still others are wondering if video game playing causes a lack of motivation in their children. EP is interested in hearing from you–leave a comment here or drop me an email if you have a question or concern regarding video games: . Thanks!

  19. Georgia Rae Report

    I would definitely be interested in more information from EP about managing video games/computer time. My almost 16 year old will spend all day on the computer if not forced to turn it off and do something else. The problem now is all his friends drive or have girlfriends and so the days of telling him to go “play outside with your friends” are disappearing. My fear is that he is addicted to being on the computer, or at the very least that he has no idea what to do with himself if he is not on the computer. I have suggested things and he does them for short periods of time (when I make him), but he doesn’t seem motivated to do much on his own for any length of time. During school it’s a little easier to manage, but holidays, breaks or summer become a battle over the computer. Any insight would be greatly appreciated! Thank you.

  20. Katy Ludwig Report

    To answer your question, “And would anyone out there be interested in a resources page on Empowering Parents that would help you navigate the maze of video games, online concerns and technology?” my answer is YES!! Not only on how to set limits but also on how parents can answer their kids’ questions about what’s so bad about playing them in such a way that they’d “get” it. I’d rather the kids come to a conclusion about having other, BETTER things to do with their time, than just me IMPOSING more rules on yet another thing in their life. So, thanks for asking. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  21. Lisa Report

    My 16yo can pretty much play what he wants on the gaming systems, however, I don’t allow games with nudity or violence toward women in the house. My youngest 9yos has a time limit each weekend. He can play for three hours over the weekend, and he usually splits that up. I think limits depend on the kid. My youngest gets very emotional when he loses the game and it affects his attitude and behavior. We have taken the system time away as a punishment, but usually just when he’s abused it or acted inappropriately when he’s losing. I think some kids are less affected by the outcomes on these games, so the limits may differ for each child.

  22. Marie Report

    You are wise to begin limiting time when they are young. I have an 18 year old who has traded his drug addiction for computer gaming. He is rude and disrespectful when asked to take some time away from them. We have had to put a password on the computer and restricted his use since he would spend 10 hours a day on it if allowed or stay up all night then not be able to do anything productive during the day. We are now going to use it as a reinforcer for getting his high school diploma–the time he spends trying to get school work done will earn him computer time. He uses it as an escape from his problems and we are very concerned that his excessive use will affect his abilty to keep a job, maintain relationships, and further his education (if he ever gets his diploma) We never bought any video gaming devices while our kids were growing up such as xbox, nintendo, playstation etc. prefering that they spend time with other kids and doing outdoor activities but screen time is screen time and he has managed to turn his computer use into an addiction he cannot control.

  23. Dawn Report

    XBox 360 does have a timer built in. You have a password. I set it for 2 hours a day and I come down to the basement to check it from time to time because both he AND I have the password to allow more time. So far, he hasn’t abused it. It is showing trust for him. AT this point, it is working out fine for us.

    I also say that for every hour he plays, he has to exercise that same amount of time. Now that he is in day camp, it works out ok. When he is not in camp, he has to swim, heeley, ride his bike or walk the dog with me.

    As far as reading goes, he has to read 10 pages every other day because he hates to read also but lucky for me and him, his school requires reading certain books and doing book reports for summer.

  24. Marilyn Wagner Report

    My 14 year old is on Xbox 8 hours per day if “nothing to do”. He gets straight A’s, is very athletic, HATES to read. Any suggestions on alternatives? And always WHY are they so bad he asks.

  25. Rachel Report

    I believe a timer is necessary for any screen time a child uses. We started limiting ‘screen time’ when my 10yr old son started becoming more and more aggressive and my 12 yr old daughter started living more in her fantasy world. During the school year, ‘screen time’ was limited to one hour a day for t.v., computer, or gaming systems. They could break that hour up by spending a half hour watching t.v. and the rest of the time in front of the computer if they wanted. If one child was playing a game and the other was watching, that counted as screen time for both of them. Of course, the children had to have their homework completed and had a good day at school (both have point sheets to fill out and bring home each day) in order to get screen time. When my son decided to sneak time on the gaming systems (by staying up late at night), we put them all in storage. I do not allow violent video games because my son can be very aggressive, so when we discovered he was playing “blow ’em up & shoot ’em down” games on the computer we passworded everything and blocked websites. This summer, neither child has any computer time because someone (probably my now 11yr old son) took a pen to the screen of my laptop. T.V. time is now limited to two hours a day with only one hour being something fantasy (ie: Transformers or Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons) and the other hour being something entertaining and educational and NOT cartoonish (ie: How It’s Made). Admittedly, my daughter gets more t.v. time than my son because she wakes up before I do and walks/feeds/waters the dogs. All entertainment is limited to after chores are completed and timers are used throughout the day for a variety of reasons. Both of my children have ADHD. My daughter struggles with PTSD due to a past trauma and my son has Executive Function Disorder. We have found that using timers and schedules/routines really helps them to get through their day without a lot of boredom and melt-downs. (AND we have learned that a child really can live without X-BOX, Nintendo, or computers – no matter how much they think they will die without them!)

  26. Jackie Report

    My twin boys (age 7) both love their electronic games (e-games) – computer games, Xbox, game boy, and PSP. However, we have strict limits on their use. They must complete a reading and math modular on learning today before they can play video games on the computer. On the weekends they are allowed 2-hours of e-games each day, but they can’t have two consecutive hours. During the week they can have about 30 minutes of e-games, but most of the time they don’t have a chance to play them. The games can also be used as incentives to achieve good behavior or extra effort on projects. When school was coming to an end, one of my sons was not paying attention in class and doing alot of playing. I promised him a specific video game is he had two consecutive weeks of good reports. The decision would be made by his teacher. She said that it made the difference in his behavior. By the way, they only use E games and I review them first before they play. Of course, I don’t really understand the games, so I am only looking for violence and language issues.

  27. nancy Report

    During the school year, my youngest son (age 8)is only permitted to play video games from friday after school until sunday after noon. If bad behavior warrants a consequence, he’ll lose the privilege of one of those days. The only catch: we’re often so busy going places that he doesn’t get the chance to play much at all. He considers this unfair, but he gets over it.
    Summer timeis more relaxed, but we have to intersprese activity and imagination games (and some math and reading practice) with video games and TV.
    Wish I had done this with my older son…

  28. Dennis Report

    I have used the Xbox family timer for quite some time now. My 15 yr old would play Xbox live for 15 hrs a day if we let him so I use the family timer to set strict limits. I now use this as a motivational tool by tying his school grades to the amount of time that he gets and it seems to work. I do occaisionally put extra time on if he earns it but have also used it to shut down the Xbox when his behaviour is not accptable.

  29. Amy Report

    I say definitely yes to using a timer. I started using one a couple of years ago when my kids (now they are ages 11 and 14) started getting into video games. Just like you, I need to approve all games before they are played. I used to let them play it when they wanted, but they would take advantage of the situation and be excessive with the time. Since I’ve been using the timer, (mine is a separate electronic one with a loud beeper!) they have been much more responsible. They actually play together, play outside, and are much nicer overall. Yes, initially, they were not happy. But when I was firm, they were fine. I also use a timer on other things. For example, being on the computer, a timer is necessary. Even over the summer, I make them read and even do some math for a certain amount of time and using a timer has helped. At least I know they will be a little more prepared for school! Overall, I hope this helps with your situation!



Join our NEW Total Transformation® Learning Center!

Practical, affordable parenting help starting at $14.95/month BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!

Empowering Parents is the leading online resource for child behavior help


Parent Coaching Sessions

7.5 Million

Global Visitors

10+ Years

Helping Families