Parents commonly ask “What is a reasonable amount of time for a child to be involved with video-games?” Prior to addressing my recommendations for time limits on video-games I would like to review some of the same rules that I propose for cell phone use. First let me discuss a little of my own rationale. Again, from reading research and recommendations I have come to some conclusions about video-games and their impact on family function.
Generally I get the question about video-games because there has been a problem, or several problems, relative to the use of video-games. My general rule of thumb is that any activity that contributes to arguing and fighting should be limited or eliminated. Some common factors that seem to contribute to the arguing and fighting is when siblings have a difficult time sharing, or prioritizing the use of the game. Common areas for problems here are when a child is asked to do their chores or perform a task and the response is something like “let me finish this level”, “just a minute” or they just plain ignore the request. I also hear frequent complaints about children arguing over the amount of time that they, or others, have been permitted to play the game.
Video-games are extremely entertaining and with the advent of interactive video-games, a person can sit in their home and not interact with family but have gaming interactions with complete strangers around the globe. This is not just a problem for children but I hear it as a common complaint about adults. The game may be interactive or it may be just extremely absorbing. Video-games can now be played on cell phones as well as computers. With all of the concern about texting and driving, I fear that Internet access in cars will shortly become a source of even greater distraction than cell phones.
Television in general and video-games in particular are being used more frequently as babysitters. There is an illusion that the benefits of improved hand-eye coordination outweigh the hazards of social isolation. When it comes to video-games, I speak of television and I also include movies. I am concerned that it seems to be more common that a young child can parrot the lines of movies and yet have difficulty with counting or the alphabet. The ability of children to manipulate technology may not correlate well with academic success if there has not been adequate time spent with family communication and interaction to learn basic educational and socialization skills.
It is my experience that technological entertainment is a poor substitute for basic learning. I believe that parents who spend more time interacting with their children tend to have less difficulty with education and discipline. Families that eat breakfast and supper together and make schoolwork and shared household chores a priority generally have fewer problems limiting the use of video-games.
My general rule of thumb for the amount of time that children should have access to video-games is no more than one half hour per day, IF, and ONLY IF homework, chores and other tasks are completed. This applies even to the weekends. Commonly even parents who believe they have sufficient control over their children’s use of video-games will admit that 4 to 6 hours of video time will occur on Saturday and Sunday. That is in addition to one hour or more on school days. Summer and vacations may actually have the children, or adults, using video-games six hours or more per day. Figuring on the low side, that puts time involved with technological entertainment at around 12 hours per week per person. If Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and videos are included, the number of hours skyrockets.
Figures represented here are low but still account for more than 600 hours per person per year that is not involved in some sort of social family activity. If half of that time was put into academics or social functions I believe that we would have far fewer family problems. Time that is spent on technological entertainment is time that is not being utilized by families. If the amount of arguing and fighting was added on to the hours of actual technological usage, the amount of wasted time would be staggering.
Looking at the diagnostic criterion for most of the autism spectrum or other areas of developmental concern, social isolation and lack of social skills are common factors. Encouragement of activities that promote social isolation, therefore reducing social skill development, may in fact create symptoms that will ultimately lead to diagnoses and possibly even to disabilities.
Hand-eye coordination learned with building blocks, I believe, far exceeds the benefits of video-games. Social skills learned when peers or parents interact with children will result in much happier and well-adjusted children as well as parents.
One thing that is significantly declining in our culture is the concept of a family identity. In my opinion, technology and the isolation created by technology continues to erode inter-generational learning and therefore family identity. Morals and core beliefs are not embedded in video-games in a way that benefits our culture.
I think it is important to repeat my general rule of thumb for the amount of time that children should have access to video-games. No more than one half hour per day, IF, and ONLY IF homework, chores and other tasks are completed. Weekend use, including school vacation times, should not exceed more than one hour per day. Remember video-games are GAMES. They are not babysitters or replacements for parents. Shared time with parents on video games should probably coincide with the amount of time that is spent using board games, card games or interactive games that are made up such as “I spy something that is _____________.” Exceptions to the rules of usage, and there does need to be family rules, should be exceptions and not become the normal pattern of usage.
Parenting is really simple – it’s not easy, just simple. While educational games will potentially benefit a child, the benefit will be magnified when those games are played with adult role models. The job of parents is to teach their children their belief system, simple. The job is made increasingly more difficult when children are distracted. Video-games, cell phones and television are exceedingly distracting.
Take time to figure out how much time your children are spending in activities that do not include communication, sharing of ideas and sharing of time. Take time to read to and talk to your children. You will likely be amazed at their improvement in mood, school function and ability to make friends.