Yes, I’m old, as my children gleefully tell me. The thing is, I really don’t get video games. I don’t understand what the attraction is and I really have no interest in finding out. My boys, however, could play for hours. They’re even happy just watching someone else play.
Now, my boys are not video game couch potatoes. They both play sports, take music lessons, hang out with friends, read books, do chores, and are active in church. Still, given a choice of activities, video games still rank very high, especially for my nine-year-old. To help keep his enjoyment of video games from turning into an obsession, I have found it very important to set strict guidelines about when, what, and for how long my boys can play.
When to Play
At our house, the rule is simple: no electronics until homework and chores are done, you have played outside for at least 30 minutes, and you have read a book for at least 30 minutes. I also don’t allow handheld games in bed during “light time” (our time after stories when the kids are in bed but can leave the light one). Light time is for reading.
Of course, you need to decide what works best for your family. Maybe a little video game time right after school helps your child transition home better than hitting the homework right away. Maybe your kids have no free time on school nights and you decide to restrict video games to weekends. Maybe your kids are more efficient than mine about getting ready for school and they actually have a little free time in the morning. Think about your children and your family schedule and then set play limits that work for you.
What to Play
I think educational trivia-type games sound fun, but they are never the ones my kids pick out. They want action! As my nine-year-old said, “I like to see things move.”
Everyone has their own standards of what they think is appropriate for kids to see in video games. I personally don’t object to games with cartoonish violence, such as two monkeys wrestling. I have a real objection to games that involve shooting, killing, or maiming. Those games don’t come in my house. Only you can determine what is appropriate for your kids. You can visit the Entertainment Software Rating Board to learn about the video game rating system and find the rating of any video game.
What about the games your kids might play at other people’s houses? You can’t control what other people have in their homes. Make sure your kids know what your standards are and why and trust them to make good decisions. Give them permission to make you the bad guy – “My mom would ground me for life me if I played that game!” Talk to other parents and try to learn what their standards are. If you are truly uncomfortable with your child visiting another home, have the play dates at your home instead.
How Long to Play Finally, it’s time for your children to play! How long before you pull the plug (and yes, I have literally pulled the plug once or twice when the kids didn’t shut down when I told them to). That may depend on other factors: for example, if we have had a busy week and I know the boys haven’t touched a game system all week, I may let them play for two or three hours on Saturday. And if I am sick enough to be stuck in bed, they can play as long as they want to! Usually, though, an hour is enough video game time for any day. There is just so much other stuff they can be doing!
I have learned that it is very important to give kids warning time before making them shut down their games. Either the kids have us parents fooled or most games were definitely not designed by mothers: there doesn’t seem to be a fast, easy, and instant way to save in many games. You have to get to a certain spot or a certain level before you can save. So do try to give your children time to save their game.
I may not get video games, but I know they are a part of my children’s lives. Part of good parenting is understanding this and being a bit flexible. Video games even have their positives, promoting eye-hand coordination and visual perception. Many also require kids to think and strategize. So set your limits and guidelines, and then let your kids play away!
Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.
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