Can’t keep your child away from computer games? 10 steps to healthier gaming for kids

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Today’s video games have become so high-tech that it’s hard not to be amazed. Not only do they have hyper-realistic graphics, they are now designed more intelligently. Players can run, shoot, jump, dance and create within a game. They can also choose to play on their own, with a couple of friends, or even with people all over the world. These games offer so many options and tons of action; it’s no wonder kids can’t help but get hooked.

What’s so bad about that? Aren’t video games educational?

Playing video games can be good for kids. Studies show that children develop useful reasoning and memory skills because of how they’re designed. Games also help develop creativity, critical thinking, as well as leadership and teamwork. However, studies also show that too much video gaming can lead to negative effects that far outweigh positive ones. Too much gaming, or gaming addiction (which is now declared a mental disorder) has been found to lead to anxiety and depression. Some games can harm the brain, damage long term concentration, and contribute to obesity and muscular and skeletal disorders when played too often.

It doesn’t help that most video games are designed to encourage continuous playing. Most games push players to reach higher and higher levels to increase the feeling of accomplishment. Each level is designed to be more difficult than the last so that they are motivated to spend time and/or money to unlock each level, or add more accessories to help them win. Kids get hooked on the thrill that they get addicted; they start to crave constant brain stimulation. When not playing, gamers complain of being bored. They are irritable and fidgety. Some even begin to withdraw from real life and become anti-social.

How much is too much?

A study found that playing video games more than five hours a day is considered dangerous and could be a sign that a player is addicted. Another study says that spending three hours or more can take a toll on a child’s mood and could lead to problems of hyperactivity. There are always disclaimers to these conclusions. Results can depend on the child’s age (younger ones may not have as much tolerance or self-control), temperament, and the type of games that they play.

Doctors advice that it’s all about balance. Parents should be able to set reasonable limits to game time since they know their kids better than anyone else.

How do you know that your child is addicted to gaming?

The child:

  1. Is always talking about the game.
  2. Gets bored, fidgety and irritable when not playing.
  3. Can play hours on end.
  4. Gets defensive when told about their excessive gaming.
  5. Gets angry or explosive when told to stop.
  6. Sacrifices basic needs like sleep, hunger or personal hygiene.
  7. Complains about chronic back, hand or wrist pain.
  8. Foregoes or forgets basic responsibilities like homework or chores.
  9. Seems distant or preoccupied when not gaming. May also have poor communication and social skills, and is not making eye contact.

If you see that your child is displaying any or all of these symptoms, it is time to curb their video gaming habit.

How to encourage healthy gaming habits:

  1. Choose age-appropriate games – Check the game’s age ratings before you allow them to get it. Research about the games that they like. Check out sites like Commonsense Media to know to know the latest on gaming and other media trends. Make it clear that you should have approval before they buy, even if they use their own money to buy them.
  2. Establish a time limit – This includes all forms of screen time like watching videos on YouTube and posting on Instagram or Snapchat. If younger kids can’t tell time yet, set an alarm. Tell older kids that every minute they exceed will be subtracted from their next gaming time.
  3. Let them play only after their responsibilities are done – Homework, chores, personal hygiene, family time and dinner must take precedence over video games. Game time is a reward and not a privilege.
  4. Keep computers and gaming consoles out of their bedroom – Kids may be tempted to sneak in a game or two when everyone’s asleep.
  5. Play the bad guy – Don’t worry about not being a cool parent. Be consistent with your rules. They will not take you seriously if you keep changing your mind.
  6. Keep an open door when they play online games – Kids can sometimes lose their inhibitions (and manners) in the heat of the game. Knowing that their parents are within earshot can help keep them in line. Staying close can also help prevent them from falling for online predators or scams.
  7. Allow them to be bored – Don’t worry if they keep complaining that they’re bored. Coping with boredom is a life skill. It can push them to find more active or creative outlets.
  8. Make time for family activities – Get your kids in real world, active play. Spend some weekend evenings holding family board game nights. Your kids should learn that there is a world out there waiting to be discovered.
  9. Learn about technology – The more you know, the better you’ll be able to handle their questions and objections. Train them how to use technology wisely and responsibly.
  10. Always talk to your kids – Always be there for them and know what is going on in their lives. Those who are having trouble at school or are being bullied usually look for an escape and turn to video games. Observe if your kid seems to be hiding from real life. Read How to encourage open communication with your kids for more tips.

Article updated February 2, 2022.

Sources: Video game addiction: How do you know your child is addicted? Laura Agadoni, Care,com; How to tell if your child is addicted to video games – and how to help, Stephen Bradshaw, Motherly; 25 + positive and negative effects of video games, Reynaldo Tumbokon, Raise Smart Kids; Seven ways parents can encourage healthy gaming habits, Beasts of Balance; Children and video games: A parent’s guide, Ellie Gibson; 5 ways to regulate video games for a peaceful home, Reuben and Efraim Meulenberg,; and How much videogames is too much? (Parts 1-3), Kent Toussaint, Teen Therapy Centre. Accessed December 20, 2018.

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