Today, people of all ages are playing online video games worldwide. More than half a billion people are playing at least one hour a day. There are 183 million gamers in the United States alone. It has been estimated that the average young person spends up to 10,000 hours gaming by the time they turn 21. To put that into perspective, that’s about how much time they would spend in the classroom from middle school all the way through high school with perfect attendance!
Incredibly, at least 5 million people in the US are spending more than 40 hours per week playing video games. There is no doubt, gaming is an activity that has firmly taken root across the US and the world and it is not going away anytime soon.
So how can parents set healthy limits on screen time?
1. Discuss before you buy. One of the best ways to ensure that your child maintains a good balance of screen time with other activities is to start early. If possible, discuss your expectations around the use of electronics with your child before the game system or tablet even comes into the house. It is important to remember that despite how common it is for kids to have their own electronic devices, this is a privilege and not a “right.” One of the first rules around electronics should be that they may only be used after homework and/or chores are done. It may be helpful to start out with a half hour to an hour of electronics time and allow your child to earn extra time through good behavior.
2. Set up in a common area of the house. Electronics should be set up in a common area, and not in your child’s bedroom. It would be a huge temptation for any child to have electronics in their room and be expected not to use them. This will also allow you to monitor what sites your child is going on.
3. Have access to your child’s passwords. If your child is younger, or you have reason to think that they may not use good judgment in their online activities, you should have access to their passwords. Most electronics have parental controls and you should make yourself familiar with them before you hand the device over to your child. Likewise, it helps to be familiar with the games your child is playing. Parents need to consider whether the game is age appropriate, and if it matches up with your family’s values.
4. Start gradually. Chances are, you may already have an issue with too much electronics usage in your home. In this case, it will be more effective to start off gradually. Don’t change all the rules overnight. Even when making small adjustments, you are likely to experience what James Lehman calls “push back” from your child. Have a family meeting and involve your kids in the discussion, so that they have some input into the new rules. You might consider having a “technology free” time each night where everyone in the house gets a break from electronics. You may have a “check in” policy at the door, so that when they get home from school, they turn in their phones, etc. and get them back after they have done their homework. The important thing is that whatever the rules are, you remain consistent with them.
5. Use Hurdle Help: If your child has gotten into the habit of spending most of their free time on electronic devices, you may need to provide them with some “hurdle help” finding other activities. Lead by example and plan some outdoor activity that the whole family can be involved in. Or, have a family game night or bowling night. With some creativity and persistence, you can help them to become more balanced in their free time activities and “unplug” them from their game systems.
For more information on parental controls and how to understand video game ratings, check out these links below: