This was a question we had recently in the clinic. It was difficult to recommend minutes per se – as it depended on what the child is used to, what other activities happen in the family home and many other factors. But here are the principles we talked through to help parents decide.
1. Technology is not technology is not technology. A reasonable amount of time spent on gaming might be different to that spent on skyping vs time spent on writing a story vs time spent on putting together a website etc etc. It is sometimes more useful to look at appropriate amounts of time for various activities rather than for using technology per se.
2. It is less helpful to “limit” gaming time and more helpful to work on helping a child “increase” other fun activities. We need to help kids make a list of non gaming activities that they like to do, help them initiate those activities, and keep on working on finding extra curricular activities for them to do. Being able to occupy oneself is a skill some children find tricky and it is usually less painful to help them build this skill rather than to say “too bad, find something else to do I don’t care what it is”. This is an ongoing task of parenting – and it changes year to year.
3. This is a great opportunity for kids and parents to work together to compromise and communicate. We should sit with our children and ask them all the things they like about gaming, and ask if they think there are any down sides to gaming for well being. Then share what we think is good about gaming, and any down sides we are concerned about. Then we need to try to come up with an agreement.
4. Whatever agreement we come up with, it should be very specific, written out and cover all eventualities (ie what about if child is half way through a game and will lose all the progress they have worked on when the timer goes? what will they do then? what will they do on the weekends? what about if they doesn’t get his time the day before – do they get to add it to the next day or not? what about chatting to other people via gaming – is this okay or not?).
5. Whatever agreement we come up with should be SHORT term – ie only a month or so – and then get reviewed as to how it went.
While thinking about this issue, and making agreements it is very important that parents have the right approach. Specifically, I think we should be really sympathetic towards kids about their desire to play games – we have allowed them to be introduced to a medium which is highly addictive – and then assume they should be able to just stop using it whenever we want them to.
I also think we should also be positive about gaming – there are lots of benefits, and it certainly isn’t all bad. If we can introduce children to games which are fun but also contribute to thinking and planning skills, then we often feel better. Feeling resentful that children want to play games is not helpful for anyone and we should remind ourselves of these benefits.
Despite this, I still think parents should limit game time – both in terms of minutes and types of games. Some parenting authors have recommended “no limits” and allowing the child to decide how much and what they use. These authors claim that limiting technology makes it seem even more attractive.
Frankly I think the designers of these games make them so attractive that whether we limit them or not – they will very strongly appeal to children. We limit certain types of food for our children until they are old enough to make informed choices about their own diet – and should do the same with their technology use. When we limit gaming AND help them find other activities – then children are more likely to have a balanced life.
However, don’t forget – don’t be resentful and angry about children gaming: be positive and enthusiastic about gaming – and understanding about its’ addictive qualities.
Its’ tough to figure this out. I personally find it one of the more challenging tasks of parenting. I think if we can share our ideas and thoughts as parents, and be respectful of our children – we will figure it out!