Learn how to set healthy limits for your video-gaming kids.
Over the last several years, there has been a steady upward trend in the amount of time our children spend engaging in video game play. As a parent, you may find yourself questioning how to monitor and set limits on video game use without becoming “the bad guy” to your child. Before setting limits on video games, a good starting place may be exploring and reflecting on your relationship with your child. Research suggests that when parents have open communication and explore ideas and concepts with their children, positive outcomes are more likely to occur.
Understand the role that gaming plays in your child’s life.
Technology has advanced exponentially over the last two decades. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, socialization for our children changed. A primary way for our children to interact with their peers is through a screen. Be curious about exploring what video games mean to your children. Explore how your children view video games. Does their online social presence differ from that of their school social presence? Is your child getting praise and validation from video games that they are not getting in other areas of their life? Understand what function this type of play serves for your child and what removing it will mean to your child.
Setting rules does not mean forbidding use.
Discuss the expectations and values of video game use as a family. As parents, what is negotiable, and what is non-negotiable? For example, will you allow video game play during the week and the weekends? Or will video games only be played on the weekends? Will your children have to do chores or homework before being allowed to play video games, or will they be given a set number of hours to play regardless of whether they complete chores and homework? There are no right or wrong ways of setting these rules. The most important question to ask yourself and your co-parent is what are the values we are trying to instill in our children, and how do these values align with the rules and expectations related to video game play?
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Set clear limits.
What makes a limit clear? A clear limit is specific, simple, reasonable and gradual. Let your child know the expectations of when, where and for how long. Use simple and concise language. Make the limit easy to follow through with, setting your child up for success. Start off slowly with manageable expectations. Ask yourself, would you rather go from having three coffees a day to zero coffees a day? Or would it be more manageable to decrease gradually from three to zero? Lastly, a limit is only helpful if you can follow through. After agreeing upon a limit, plan or schedule for video game use, ensure that you stick to it.
Engage in collaboration.
Research suggests that many children engage in video game play as they feel more successful in the video game world than in the physical world. Find ways to encourage this success by watching your child play and even playing video games alongside them. Let your children know that you see them. Collaborate and negotiate limits with your children. This may be surprising. However, when children feel that they have a say and that their opinions are heard and valued, they are more likely to follow the limits. Finally, children learn through watching, so model good habits for them. While you may not be gaming 24/7, ask yourself how many hours a day are you on your phone? Are you scrolling through Facebook and Instagram at all hours of the day? Do you take your phone or tablet to bed with you? How can you make new habits for yourself that demonstrate healthy relationships with technology for your children?
Give it time.
As with any new habit you are working to establish, it is important to allow time to adjust. Research suggests that it takes at least two weeks of engaging in a routine or action for it to become a habit. Allow time for your children to adjust to the new limits that you have agreed upon and for them to become acclimated to the new system. Follow through by reminding your children and family of what was agreed upon.
Gabrielle Aroz, LMFT, specializes in the impact of technology on mental health in adolescents. She has conducted research and published articles on the topic, and she has developed interventions to help parents and children build healthy relationships with technology. She is also trained to treat problematic gaming.
By Gabrielle Aroz