Every kid begs for video games. Parents hear the plea over and over again until they're so worn down they knuckle under and buy one. But as soon as you buy the game, the real trouble begins: junior sits down and won't get up. When he does, he's aggressive, screaming, "But the game isn't finished!" At that point you wonder, "What have I done?"
Electronics are part of your daily life, too. You're reading this online, I just hung up my cell phone, most of your Christmas gifts were probably bought online to avoid the crowds, and soon you'll be hopping over to Facebook to see how things are with your "friends." Like it or not, our children will need to know how to use electronics and computers in order to be successful in this world.
Did you know that the underlying principal for every video game is math, problem solving, and strategic thinking? Those are the skills your child is using and expanding as they play video games. But Mell L. still wonders: "With all the new tech out there . . . are we dulling our children's imaginations?"
I ponder the same thing as Mell. No matter what the researchers say about video games, I still wanted my kids outside, reading books, and using their imagination. Because of that, we locked horns, a lot.
Then one day at work, while the tech was fixing my computer, again, I asked, "How did you become a computer tech?" His answer rocked my world: "I played video games." Turns out playing video games benefited my kids, too. They both work in the computer industry today. But I made sure there were limits.
Here, we're sharing eight limits to set for video games so that your child's electronic world is balanced with creative outdoor play.
1. Research and Check Ratings
Each game should have an ESRB (Electronic Software Rating Board) rating on it, like EC for early childhood. If it doesn't, don't buy it. If it looks too violent, it probably is. I really drew the line here.
2. Rotate in Academic Games
Just because your child's peer group only talks about the "cool" or violent games doesn't mean that's all they're playing. Saying "Try it, you'll like it" to get your kids to try an academic game doesn't usually work, either.
However, if you purchase both types of games, one that focuses on academics and one that all the kids want, you'll be more successful. A great rule is: In this house we alternate between academic games and fun games, every other day. If they're unwilling, you can say, "I'm guessing you're too young to play and follow the rules. We'll put the game away today and see if you're able to act older tomorrow."
3. Try These 3 Rules
Don't fool yourself; there will be sharing, frustration, and time issues. Remember, games are designed to provide a full sensory immersion experience. Use a timer and post rules clearly, so there's no argument. Here are three key rules:
- Frustration = taking a break, like it or not.
- Not sharing = timers are used to make sure things stay fair.
- Negotiations or begging for more time = no play for 24 hours.
4. Set Time Limits
Video games are solitary and sedentary. To help offset this fact, do an activity trade. For every 30 minutes of large muscle activity, i.e. running, bike riding, or basketball, a child earns 10 minutes of video game time.
Another way to get him up and moving is to insist that one game per day be a game that promotes movement, things like dancing, Twister, or exercise games. Join him; he'll love it, and it's great exercise for you too!
5. Introduce the "Save Game" Function
Introduce the "save game" function to your child. Explain to him that games are made to go on and on and that he'll rarely complete a game by the time the timer goes off. Tell him the "save game" function saves his place and his points. Let him know ahead of time that it's OK to turn the game off without a fuss since everything is saved and waiting for him tomorrow.
6. Declare "Nonelectronic Days"
Don't like the idea of games being played every day? Insist on "electronic days" and "nonelectronic days." You can also teach time management by allowing older kids to manage their own game time. For instance, give them the total amount of time they can play this weekend and let them decide how to use it. If they fail, they lose the opportunity to manage themselves next week.
7. Have Them Earn Game Time
Trade chores for extra video time. This teaches kids that you earn your fun in life by working.
8. Figure Out Your Child's "Aggression Point"
Apply the five/25 test to find out where your child's aggression point is. Let him play a video for five minutes. Then he has to go outside (or do something else) to play for 25 minutes. Each time he does his other activity for 25 minutes, increase the amount of video time he gets by five minutes, keeping the other activity to 25 minutes for each set. Do this until your child's behavior turns aggressive or frustrated. That's his saturation point. Deduct five minutes from the saturation point time, and you've got his time limit. Redo the test to adjust the time when you think he's ready.
Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding: 108 Ways to Discipline Consciously and Become the Parent You Want to Be and the founder of Proactive Parenting. Her book and site help parents gain more patience by responding instead of reacting as they deal with the whirlwind of emotions created by raising kids ages 1-10.