Setting Limits on Video Games

by Deborah Godfrey

The average teenager watches 7.5 hours of television, video games, computer every day. This is a horrifying number, in my opinion. While TV can be educational, most of what the children watch when left to their judgment is certainly not educational.

Most of you that have taken my class know that I haven’t had television for over 9 years. That is, I have no cable with stations and such. I do have a TV with a VCR and we have a library of videos and rent movies all the time. We also play many board games. Three years ago, we bought a PlayStation. In addition, we have a wide variety of games that play on the computer, some educational, some not. I have many of the same fights over these forms of media that families with cable have over programs that the kids are watching. Over the years I have come up with some strategies for handling the fighting and excessive use of these toys.  Setting limits on video games became a struggle that I took seriously and had many successes and challenges.

One of the problems is that kids ignore parents when they are watching TV. They forget to eat, clean up after themselves, do their chores and play. Parents nag, kids ignore, the battle rages everyday in this manner.

The key to taking back control of the media in your home is to make agreements ahead of time – before the TV/computer ever goes on. There should be a clear agreement that spells out the limits and rules about the use of the game. When a new “Spiro” game comes out on PlayStation, my kids will fight for days (if no agreements are made) over who gets to play. The rule we have is that they must make a schedule before they turn it on. They have to agree who plays, for how long and even write down exactly what time each will play. They all have to sign it, as if it’s a contract. Here’s what it might look like:

Who gets to be on Play Station:
Michelle 3:30-4:00
Briana 4:00-4:30
Michael 4:30-5:00

X_______________X______________X_______________

The first agreement is that they must do this before they turn on the game. The second agreement is that they make a detailed schedule of who plays and when. It must be hung up on the refrigerator. That way, if I think one kid is over the limit, or if there is a fight over whose turn it is, I can simply refer to the schedule. If they do not adhere to their agreement, than the game is off for the day. I have found this routine to be a great way to keep myself out of the battles and for the kids to work out their issues with each other.

With television, you can set limits in a similar manner. Sit down with the family on Sunday when the TV Guide arrives. Make a chart with the programs that each will watch, make sure to have the TV off at all other times. One mom I know also includes a “NO TV” night every week.

It is also helpful to make an agreement about what needs to happen before turning on the TV or video game. For example, my son likes to get up early and play. The agreement is that he has to be fully ready for school before he turns on the computer. It is spelled out in the agreement that he needs to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush his teeth and make his lunch. After just a few weeks of following through with the consequences, he learned to get everything finished before turning on the games.

The most important factor for the agreement to work is consistent follow through. Make sure that you stay involved with the kids, both in the agreement-making phase and while they are playing. Make sure that they adhere to the schedule. Follow through with the consequences with a kind and firm attitude. “It’s a bummer that the PlayStation is off for the rest of the day”. Don’t give in to their pleading or promises.

The giving in is what undermines our authority. The children come to believe that if they make promises to behave better, then we will give in. They typically forget in a rather short period of time and we become exhausted and angry that they are not keeping their end of the bargain. However, if we have agreed that the TV will go off if the agreement is not kept, and then we give in to a “bargain” we are showing our children that bargains do not necessarily have to be kept. This is why the battle goes on and on.

During the training period of implementing a new agreement (usually 2-4 weeks) it is very important to maintain complete consistency and follow-through. Being flexible should not be an option during the training phase of the agreement. Flexibility is crucial in parenting, and there is a time and place for it. The time for flexibility is not while helping children learn a new routine. Once a new routine is established, then you can become more flexible if you think that is appropriate. My experience has led me to believe that too much flexibility with routines leads to misbehaving kids. It’s better to maintain consistency with agreements and be flexible with issues that come up “in the moment”. That is just my experience.

With some work and effort initially, making agreements with the kids and creating a plan for follow-through, you can avoid so many of the headaches you face on a daily basis, fighting over the excessive TV watching or fights over the TV. Start today, making a family routine that brings order and sanity to your home!

(*note…I wrote this article in 2001, so while the media our kids are using has changed, my ideas for setting limits has not!  Please read and substitute whatever form of electronic entertainment you kids over-use for TV, and try the ideas accordingly…)

Do you need better attendance at your parent education programs? I split my time between So. California and Louisville, KY. If you are interested in parenting classes & workshops in a 3 hour radius of either, there are no travel fees. Please contact me for topics & rates. I love to travel & have an 8-week proposal for parenting workshops, intensive classes & instructor training in your area of the world. Please email me for details.

28 Comments

  1. Linda Says Reply

    Limiting screen time is a great idea. Kids learn to communicate, compromise, and have fun together as a family when screens are off. My kids (15, 9, and 7) don’t watch TV. No cable stations. Two or three times a month, we will watch a family movie…together…. but they don’t ever just turn the TV on and watch. They may not know the latest characters their friends talk about, but they certainly do have great imaginations, long attention spans, and a curiosity for learning. As for video games, iPads and PCs we use them to explore and learn during the week and play games on a limited basis on weekends. Interacting is our reward, not tv. I wish more of my children’s friends watched less tv. It would make their play dates so much more fun. The kids would be able to play and interact longer, with better imaginations.

    • dddd Says

      ok so what do we do at shcool

    • Deborah Godfrey Says

      I’m not sure what you are asking? Are you a parent wondering what you should do about screen use at school? Or a student? Please give me more information or an example of your question, thanks!

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    • Logan Says

      One other thing for the people who visit this site you should try playing some games like minecraft on peaceful and just walk around the world during the day listening to the music or building objects only your mind could come up with but then you realize that you have been playing for longer than an hour but still want to finish that mansion you were building,or you play games like gta but not for the violence but for the beautiful landscape or defying reality or physics with the games vehicles but not at all caring for what people said this game was said to be but again you realize you spent an hour biking around los santos,san andreas, but i would also recommend sitting down with your child and playing a game with them or watching them have fun with some friends the met in a game lobby and how well they are to each other or how much more fun there having with a limit over 30 minutes. Just try

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  4. Oh yes Says Reply

    Gay and stupid only 30 mins a day so gey

    • Deborah Godfrey Says

      I’m sure you are frustrated! When you are on the computer as long as you like, do you notice any changes in yourself? Why do you think parents want to have limits for you? It would be great if you could make a good argument for more than 30 minutes a day, and agreement that you keep with your parents so they know they can count on you. What myself and other parents notice, is that after about 30-40 minutes there is a most definite change in you and it’s much harder to inspire you to shift gears to something else.

      What do you think the limit should be?

  5. raoul Says Reply

    30 min – 1 hr

    • Deborah Godfrey Says

      Raoul,

      That sounds reasonable to me. If you can make an agreement with your parents, and keep the agreement (so they don’t have to tell you to get off the computer…you do it on your own), I would totally support you in one hour a day. Let me know what your parents say !

      Deb

    • Logan Says

      I personally think thirty isnt a good time i would allow two hours because it has been proved that video games can help people with depression,ADHD,anger issues. And yes games can make angry or sometimes aggressive but thats because there self or the game. But people have been known to make great friends on multiplayer games like i have an xbox 360 and i have made some great friends on even though i dont know them and if i now only had thirty minutes me and others would dislike that

      And the other thing is if you look at it from the gamers P.O.V. would have similar responses also if your one of those people who think games like cod,gta,battle field make people violent is completely untrue,for example my cousin Jason play’s cod and gta for multiple hours but he’s a straight A student who is sensitive to others and has made friends online and that concludes my argument

  6. jon Says Reply

    u r rong video gaymes r good 4 i pley 10-12 hrs. a day and i am on track and also on footbla

  7. no. Says Reply

    With all due respect, you are insane to not allow your children time to play video games. I personally play Destiny, in which I’ve had to figure out how to do 4 Different very difficult puzzles, with no explanation or hints. I’ve helped to figure out mazes with deadly traps, how to destroy the Deathsingers, how to beat Skolas, how to defeat something that can teleport you to a different planet. Do you think your kids are up to that, have the problem solving capabilities, have to composure to deal with defeat so many times it has made people physically break things? Do you thunk yout kids have the attention span to be able to do their part without screwing up, in the midst of 200 pressing distractions? My guess is no, and that is why video games are more than a mind numbing distraction. They encourage creativity, they nourish exploration, and should not be restricted to a mere 30 minutes a day. I’m going to describe to you something, a puzzle I had to figure out how to do without failing, without leaving my team behind. This is how you defeat The Deathsingers.

    Six people enter a room. Suddenly. One is invisible, with the text “torn between dimensions appears on the screen. Two massive enemies sit beneath impenetrable shields. Their names are Ir Hanak and It Halak. Suddenly, enemies pop up. You fire your weapon, unsure of what to do. Then, you are assigned a platform. In which you step on in a certain order based on appearance of a small light. You fight off enemies while standing there. Waiting for the person torn between dimensions to get to that light. Then, the person that now has the small light smashes and steals the shield. All players gather under it, shooting thousands of rounds into the monster. If you are successful, you need to do it again. Could your kids figure that out? Could they also figure out the multiple mazes before it? The small traps and puzzles that you have no inkling on how to solve? Could they also figure out the hardest enemy, Oryx? I don’t think so. This is coming from somebody with a 160 IQ that is taking sophomore math in eighth grade, that has maintained straight A’s all of his life. I’ve strengthened my social skills in real life, I have more friends now. I have better problem solving skills. Video games have not only proven to be beneficial for me, but by what I’ve seen exhibited by others as well. They have saved lives. So reconsider folly before it’s too late and you create a generation of ignorance.

    • Deborah Godfrey Says

      Hi There!

      Well, you certainly are exceptional! Thank you for taking the time to demonstrate how gaming as benefited you personally. I think it will help each parent to make a more informed decision regarding their children’s screen time. I certainly am understanding and sensitive to the need to not be bound by arbitrary time frames when engaged in this type of activity. And I think you also addressed the social aspect as well that is of concern to parents. The one thing you didn’t say, but I will assume, is that you have a decent relationship with your parents and that there is mutual respect between you. Many parents find that their kids become unmanageable with excessive screen time (excessive being defined differently for each child). If a child came to me with a logical respectful argument such as yours, I would surely negotiate in your favor assuming the rest of your life stays in balance.

      Again, I appreciate the time you took to write out this thoughtful response.

      Debbie

  8. nyan cat33 Says Reply

    NO LIMIT ON VIDEO GAMES

  9. Diana Says Reply

    I have a 14 year old who loves his playstation and I know I need to set a definite time limit, but 30 min is not even enough for 1 game. I was thinking 2 hours was a little more realistic.

    • Deborah Godfrey Says

      Diana,

      As long as it’s working, that’s great! Many parents find their kids get “out of their minds” when on a game for some period of time. Every child is different and it’s important to know YOUR child’s tolerance level.

      Debbie

  10. James Chavez Says Reply

    While I myself am a gamer I also have self control and with anything, moderation is key. I think 1-2 hours is fine, similar to a movie as the longest. Once you begin to spend more time gaming than doing things like being social with real world friends, doing chores, working on homework, learning to become self reliant, or attending to your personal hygiene then you have a problem.

    I have been in a situation where i had to limit a 14 year olds gaming time only to have them be very nasty about it. He was angry and was told to turn off his game system and got o bed. He waited until his mother fell asleep then got back up and games with the volume off most of the night, pretending to get up very early and game. I liken his reaction to that of a junkie. As soon as his fix was gone, he got really rude with his mother, threatened to hack the console and break things if he didn’t get his way and then tried to dictate what the rest of the family would or would not watch. Generally just being immature, the opposite of what he needed to do in order to show why he should be allowed to game 5-8 hours a night.

    As an english major, I challenged him to sit down and write me a paper about why he should be allowed to game longer and make a good point, I wrote a similar rhetorical paper arguing why moderation was more important. I told him once he could argue a good point then I would vote for an extension. He has yet to make a point beyond because he is 14.

    Sorry kids, if you can point out a single reason why you should be allowed that can argue my point that game addiction is an issue, you’re stuck with 1-2 hours a night at most. That includes gaming on tablets or phones.

    The kid i limited decided he’s stay up on his tablet all night playing minecraft because he couldn’t play on his console. That is just unacceptable, pickup a book, go for a walk, wash your clothes, pickup your room.

    1 hour is fine, 2 hours is stretching it. after that you need to go out and do something, if you have nothing to do then the parents are at fault. He tried to argue that he would be bored without it and we would not have to entertain him if we let him play longer. WRONG ANSWER! This resulted in him getting signed up for a summer camp and sports. He would only be allowed to play after coming home, finishing homework, bathing and eating his dinner.

  11. isaiah Says Reply

    I play for 1 hr for 3 days a week should I get more days or not? Note to self: I am 11 about to be 12. plz t3x+ b@ck @$ $00n @$ p0s!bl3

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  13. Giovanni Zappavigna Says Reply

    I became a father last week and I have to admit this will be a big issue in the future since I am a big gamer. I know I will have to set limits to myself and to my son, reading your article made me think about it and now I have a better vision on the subject, thank you.

  14. Rob Says Reply

    Our son is 15 and is very addicted to video gaming, probably averages 5 hours a day (more on weekends, less on school nights). However, most of his gaming time is spent online with his friends — usually 3 or 4 or 5 kids talking to each other, strategizing, and having a blast playing the game TOGETHER. Most of these friends are close buddies from school, and occasionally it may be kids he doesn’t really know. So gaming is a very social thing for our son. His grades are good, and he does other activities — sports and music. While he puts 30+ hours a week into gaming, we’re lucky if he spends more than 1 hour a week practicing music. During his sport’s season he spends a lot of time at practices, so less time on his computer during those 2 or 3 months. In the summer he might spend 50+ hours/week gaming (Ugh!!).

    My wife and I are constantly asking ourselves whether we have a problem on our hands, or if we should just be thankful our son is being social and not out getting into trouble with drugs and alcohol and such.

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