Most children love video games. While video games can teach certain skills or be educational, many children spend too many hours with a controller in their hand. Video games have been linked to childhood obesity and cognitive problems. You don’t have to cut video games out of your child’s life completely, but setting boundaries and helping your child find other Activities can limit the amount of time they play video games.
EditSetting Clear Boundaries
- Outline specific rules. Clear, established rules are important for changing your child’s behavior. By letting your child know exactly what you want, they know what is expected from them and there are no grey areas. You should also establish clear consequences for any rule breaking. Sit down with your child and talk about the new rules. 
- Don’t say, “You only get to play video games a few hours each day and not too late.” That is too vague. Instead, say, “On school days, you can play video games for one hour. You cannot play after 8 p.m.”
- Be clear with your consequences. Your child needs clear, defined consequences for breaking the rules. Make sure that when you set the rules, you give them consequences they understand. Don’t be vague with consequences because that will just cause confusion.
- For example, tell them, “If you don’t have any outbursts or act out when you turn off your video games, and if you don’t play after 8 p.m., you can continue playing for one hour each school day. If you give problems, play longer than an hour, or play after 8 p.m., you will lose your gaming privileges for the next day.”
- Follow through with consequences. After you set limits and establish consequences, you must follow through. If you let your child get away with breaking rules without consequences, they will not take you seriously and not follow your rules. Make sure to stick to your word if your child breaks the rules.
- Don’t change the consequences, even if you get mad. If the rules and consequences are not working, discuss new rules and consequences with your child and why they have changed.
- Use a timer. Using a timer and giving your child warnings can help them prepare for the end of their designated time. Children can be very resistant to change, even if they know it’s coming. Warning them that their time is about to be over will help them transition.
- Give your child warnings when they have 15 and 10 minutes left.
- Set a timer for five minutes before the end. When the buzzer sounds, tell them, “You have five minutes left. It’s time to get to a point where you can save your game.”
- Insist that your child completes all homework and chores each day. Your child should have responsibilities they have to complete before they are allowed their video game time. This includes homework and chores. After all the responsibilities have been met, then they can be allowed to begin their video game time.
- Help your child see video games as a reward for finishing their homework and chores each day.
- Place the video game system in a common room. One good way to set limits on your child’s gaming and monitor them is to place the systems in a common room instead of their bedroom. This makes it easier for you to enforce the rules and for your child to follow them.
- Placing a game console in a child’s bedroom gives them too much freedom to play when unsupervised. Additionally, it can cause too much temptation, especially for a younger child who has difficulty following rules.
EditHelping Your Child Transition
- Work with your child on techniques to stop playing video games. Involve your child in the process of limiting their video game playing. Talk about not playing certain games that will be too exciting or take too long on school night, or come up with a reward system for following the video game rules.
- For example, talk with a child about not trying to beat a level when they don’t have time. Instead, they can save that for the weekend.
- You and your child can brainstorm rewards for not breaking the rules for a week, month, or longer. Don’t give rewards of more video game time. Instead, find other fun rewards you can both agree on.
- Reduce the time for video games slowly. Instead of getting rid of video games completely, slowly taper the amount of time your child can play. For example, if they spend every hour after school playing, limit that to one or two hours at first. Explain to your child why you are reducing their time playing video games, but let them know you respect that they enjoy the activity and still want them to play.
- For example, you may say, “You get angry and have verbal outbursts when I tell you to stop playing video games. Your grades have fallen over the last few months because of your video games. This is unacceptable. I want you to be able to enjoy them, but we are going to limit how long you can play each day.”
- Cutting off video games completely at first will more than likely backfire. You want to limit your child’s behavior, not take away something they enjoy completely.
- Set up a transition routine. Ending video game time may be difficult, and your child may not be able to switch out of that mode immediately. Help your child by giving them a physical activity that marks the end of their video game time. This can help them get used to switching from that to non-video game life.
- For example, you can try specific language that signals a switch. Say something light like, “You are being called back to the RW from fantasy land! Welcome back!”
- Set up a physical marker. Give your child a glass of water, stretch with them, or do a few jumping jacks.
- Establish family time. Get your child away from the video games by setting up family time where the whole family does an activity together. Family time should not be optional, and every member of the family including parents and children should participate.
- Allow your child to choose the activity sometimes, so they feel like they are getting to do things they want to do. Forcing them to do activities they don’t want to do can frustrate them.
- You can ask your child to help you make dinner, and make family dinners a nightly ritual.
- Go for a walk or bike ride together, play board or card games, or have a family movie night.
- You may want to set consequences for not participating in family activities. For example, if they skip a family activity, they do not get their hour of video games.
- Help your child learn how to save their game progress. Many younger children do not know how to navigate the game features and may need help learning how to save progress. If they save their game and do not feel like all of their efforts have been wasted, they are less likely to give you a hard time about ending their playing session.
- Explain to your child that many games take tens or hundreds of hours to complete, which means the game cannot be completed in one sitting. Help them understand that the game is meant to be spread out.
- When their time is up, wait for them to get to a saving spot, and help them if they are too young to do it by themselves. If they try to extend their time by taking too much time to save, subtract the amount of time from their next day’s hour. If it continues, take away their privilege for breaking the rules.
EditEncouraging Other Interests
- Encourage your child to find other activities. Video games are only one way that children can entertain themselves. There are a lot of things they can do, especially if they are not allowed ot fall back on video games. Encourage your child to pursue other interests, and if they can’t think of anything, suggest a few for them.
- Don’t be afraid to say no to your child when they want to play video games because “there’s nothing to do.”
- For example, your child can play with other toys, put on plays, make music or movies, read, play outside, engage in something creative like drawing, writing, or crafts, or play board or card games.
- Get your child involved in social activities. Gaming is a solitary activity. You can encourage your child to participate in group activities they will enjoy. Brainstorm together and let them choose activities they will enjoy instead of choosing one for them.
- You can try youth groups at your religious institution. Local Y Clubs, community arts centers, and libraries also offer youth programs.
- Look into local arts programs for theater, music, painting, and drawing. You can also look for programs for computers, building, or other hands-on activities.
- Recreational sports can be fun for some kids, though you should never force children to do sports who do not want to do them.
- Encourage your child to get involved in physical activities. Excessive playing of video games has been linked to conditions like childhood obesity because video games are sedentary activities. To get your child more active, encourage your child to choose a physical activity they enjoy. It’s important to let your child choose what they do. Encourage them to try new activities if they don’t have any favorites.
- Your child may enjoy bike riding, skateboarding, dance, martial arts, recreational sports, swimming, and playing games outside.
EditAssessing Your Child’s Situation
- Determine an acceptable amount of time for video games. Everyone has a different opinion for what is acceptable for video games. Decide on an acceptable time for each day or for the week. Some parents limit video games to one hour per day, while others completely ban video games during the school week and only allow for a few hours on the weekends.
- Many healthcare professionals and development specialists recommend that children should not spend more than two hours each day in front of a television or computer screen. Take this into account when determining what time limits you want to set and decide on an acceptable amount of video game playing time that works for you.
- Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of video game addiction. Some kids develop an actual addiction to playing video games. They experience behavioral, emotional, and physical symptoms, such as becoming withdrawn from family and friends. It is important for parents to understand what the signs and symptoms are, so that they can recognize them if they develop in their child.
- For example, your child may be unable to stop playing, get aggressive or upset when they are not playing, or lose interest in all other activities. They may irritable or depressed when not playing video games. Children may neglect their personal hygiene, have disrupted sleep, and experience back or wrist pain.
- Contact a healthcare professional if you notice any problems. If you believe your child is addicted to video games and you’ve tried to limit their behavior with no change, you may need help from a professional. Your child’s doctor or a mental health professional can work with you and your child to help positively change their behavior and enforce limits.
- This may be a good option if your child reacts violently to limits on their video game access. If your child is destructive, aggressive, or threatening due to you trying to change their behavior, they may need to see a mental health professional.