Bring up the topic of “screen time” at the playground or sports practice, and chances are you’ll catch some parents rolling their eyes, either because 1) they can’t stand screen time in principle or because of how it makes their kids behave and/or 2) give in to it out of habit or perceived necessity, or 3) think that limits on it are overrated and are sick of hearing they need to change fix something in their homes that isn’t broken.
Wherever you stand on the issue at this particular moment in time, it’s worth noting that last week was
Screen-Free Week. For suggestions on going screen-free, see the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
We’d love to hear in the comments and on Facebook if you participated – and how.
For the other 51 weeks, if yours is not a completely screen-free home, and if you have children aging into the videogame years, what’s a good rule of thumb?
In today’s guest post, family therapist and mom of four Emily Griffin offers some tips on how to play along, if you’re going to play at all!
Emily’s post is adapted from a radio show that can be found at www.The-American-Family.com.
My recurring segment on The American Family is entitled Mindful Parenting . I recently took on the video game debate and made some suggestions for how video games can reasonably be integrated into a family routine.
In my household, video games are the coveted reward, the one thing my two older sons can agree on for “down time” after a week of busy school schedules, sports, and chores.
Many parents struggle with how to allow – or even if to allow – video games for their children. When we hear about kids playing for hours on end, sitting in front of the screen, it scares many parents into feeling like there’s no room for opening that Pandora’s box they may never be able to close. Also, some of us treat games on iPads as if they’re not video games. Let me be clear that when I refer to video games here, I’m talking about all electronic games. Even the ones on your phone.
Here are some guidelines to use for allowing video games, if you can believe that they don’t have to poison your child. These are my opinions, based on my experience in raising 4 boys, two of whom are now 14 and 7. (The other two are under the age of 3).
- Check out the games yourself. Do a Google search. You will find detailed information and plenty of opinions on how old someone should be to play it (besides the rating on the box). Common Sense Media is a great go-to for parents regarding anything media-related.
- Allow yourself to enjoy playing. Yes, I said it. YOU can play. Just accept that you may be terrible. Your kids will delight in your mistakes, which can humanize you in their eyes.
- Let your kids be the experts. Sit back and watch when you can, asking questions to figure out what’s going on (you may or may not have a clue once they’re finished telling you). But at least you noticed and cared.
- Be open to learning something about your child. Watching how they play can give you a new perspective on strengths that your kids possess, which you can reference the next time they need help figuring out something like a math problem.
- Video games require patience, problem-solving, persistence, creativity, quick thinking, cooperation, teamwork, and hand-eye coordination. Help your kids get the most out of the skill-building elements.
- Limit the time for playing. Kids don’t need to play for hours on end. The warning on the box of one of my seven-year-old’s games says take a break every 30 minutes or 20 minutes if playing in 3D mode. I like to use a general rule that even on the weekends for my 14-year-old, two hours is the max. I may let him go back to it later if he’s had a really productive day and deserves a bonus of some kind. My 7-year-old can play for an hour at the most. I don’t recommend allowing video games on the weekdays.
- With kids under age 10, be sure they have plenty of non-electronic playing time. Kids need to explore and experience the real world. I’ve worked at schools where I’ve noticed that kids who played video games often and excessively had a hard time with patience. They demand instant gratification. They constantly needed stimulation and attention. This is not conditioning you want for your child and it will possibly lead to a needy, annoying personality.
- Use the games to help reinforce fantasy vs. reality. Make sure the children grasp that if they try to jump from one building to another in real life, they’d most surely be in the hospital in a lot of pain. Don’t take all the fun out of it, but do check in periodically to make sure they get the idea.
- Be clear on which games they can play, and stick to it. Pay attention to when they may be ready for a game that’s more advanced, and this will help them to respect your guidelines, even if at a friend’s house.
- Finally, be intentional with building character with your kids. You need to be able to trust that they know right from wrong in most situations, and you are the one who has to teach them. Use their media exposure and real life examples to build on their understanding of how to treat people. When you do that, you can feel more secure in knowing that they will keep things separated and make safe decisions (like not trying to act out a violent video game inappropriately).
So, to wrap it up, use your reasonable judgment and trust your kids. You may be pleasantly surprised by how you enjoy that time with your kids, as well as enjoying the game yourself!
Emily Griffin is a native Washingtonian, wife, and mother of four biracial sons in a blended family. She is the founder of Happy Parents, Happy Babies, LLC, which is her private practice devoted to in-home parent counseling, coaching, and support in the DC area.
Emily is offering a free 50-minute consultation to one lucky winner. Consultation will be held at a meeting location within 10 miles of Takoma Park (zip code 20912).
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Contact Emily at emilygriffinlicsw (at) gmail (dot) com for a free 20-minute phone consultation or learn more at www.happyparentshappybabies.com.
Follow Emily on Twitter at @HappyP_HappyB
Thanks for these great guideposts. My 7-year-old has started playing one video game (Minecraft) but so far I think we’ve managed to set some limits so that he can enjoy it in moderation without it taking over our family life. It’s a fairly creative game that he finds mentally stimulating, so even though I do prefer it when he plays sports or runs around outside or does something else creative, I find that it can work as one of a menu of ways that he can productively spend his time.
It’s great that it’s working for you. I feel unable to allow electronica and not want to tune out! I haven’t checked out Minecraft yet. My son is perhaps not as naturally active and creative and seems to react not so great with screen time, but maybe that would be different if it were active rather than passive.
I struggle with this since I used to love playing video games (pre-kids, now I don’t have time!), but I also know how addictive and time-sucking they can be. With two kids 6 and under, we have chosen not to have any video game playing in our home…yet. No iPads and my kids aren’t allowed to use my iPhone, which doesn’t have games on it anyway (it’s a combo personal/business phone). I don’t think Minecraft and other games are bad at all, but I also can’t say I’m excited when my kids spend an entire playdate sedentary, watching someone else play on a screen, instead of, you know, actually playing. When they’re bored at home, they get out board games, puzzles, legos or books. For now, I feel like that’s pretty awesome and don’t feel the need to replace that with whining for more time on PS3.
It’s great that your boys are so self-sufficient and industrious! As long as you can make it work, I think screen-free is a great thing for early childhood. There will be plenty of time for computer stuff — in school if they eventually go public and in later years. It’s starting to get clear now that we are the house without video games. We do have plenty of other fun stuff, and it’s not a huge issue yet. In fact, I stave off letting him do anything at home by saying he can do it at friends’ houses. But he’s still 8, and at some point I’m going to need to get more of a clue about what they’re all up to! :-) And I’m starting to think something interactive might actually be better than just letting them watch something when I need the break. It would be great to not even do that, but as long as we’re not a TV-free house, I don’t have it in me to cut it all off and let TV be only for dad time. Thanks for sharing!