Thursday, January 10, 2013

Limiting my kids' Video Game Time

Something that I have struggled with a lot over the past three years is how to control the amount of time my kids get to play video games.  It all started with a Wii, then we got Nintendo DS' for travelling back and forth internationally (must have), then a Playstation so dad could have his favorite Katamari game, Santa brought an XBox 360 last year, hoping the Kinect would help the kids move around and burn energy on the days when it was too cold to play outside, and finally through a bet from dad and a birthday gift, two Kindle fires emerged.  We are chock full of video games (oh, and I forgot the iphone and iPads too).  While they can be great and beneficial for learning purposes and keeping kids tech saavy, they are also a deterant and a large problem.

Video games have caused fights, yelling, tantrums, and just general frustration in our house.  The games that are co-op, where you can have more than one person playing simultaneously can be a mother's worst nightmare, if the kids don't like losing or don't understand that they are playing with each other.  These games have emanated the biggest problems in my house and I have had to forbid my kids from playing them when friends are over and sometimes with each other.  Any peace and quiet I might gain from a little game time for them is so not worth the screaming and fighting that more often than not results.

The worst part about the video games is getting kids to turn them off.  The first rule I ever set and learned very quickly was always have a time limit and SET A TIMER.  If they do not turn it off by the time the timer finishes dinging, they don't play the next day.

I feel like video games are fun and enjoyable, but so are board games and outdoor physical games- do all of your kids know how to play "mother may I" and "red rover"?   The next rule I set for video games was a total time limit per day for any screen time (including TV).  During the school week, time was limited to 1 hour and the weekend 1 1/2 hours.  With five kids, it was hard for me to keep track of and follow through with the time limit.  The biggest thing was they all wanted to play different games.  So, when one was playing, the others were watching and their screen time was effectively tripling.  It was so much work to keep them from watching each other that I knew this system couldn't last.  The other thing that was frustrating was their assumption that they were allowed that time no matter what and that they deserved it.  Sometimes, at 9PM, an argument would break out between one of the kids and I because they didn't get to play "their time".  I was so sick of hearing about "their time", something had to change.

Finally, about a month ago, I discovered I could use this desire of my kids to play video games to my advantage.  Not only would I give them a time limit for playing, but they would have to earn it each and every day!  I haven't had time to make a chart, but I give them lists of chores to do around the house and each chore ranges from 5-10 minutes of playing time, depending on the difficulty of the chore.  They are only allowed to earn up to the maximum and I have the right to say that there is only time for 30 minutes of play, so you can only earn 30 minutes.  Let's just say I haven't had to take out the recycling, bring down the laundry, or vacuum much lately.  I'm kind of liking this now.
There is still a rule that if you are watching someone play, it counts towards your time, and you have to finish at the timer or you lose the next day.  I actually overheard my oldest say to my second son that he couldn't watch him play or it would count against him, so he left the room to read a book.   I know this isn't an end all be all solution and there will be days when I let them play longer (special occasions).  I thought I'd share this because I often hear other parents asking how to limit video game/screen time.  It's funny how when we first got the devices, we thought we were the coolest parents and what a great gift we were giving our kids and now we ask ourselves "what were we thinking".

I don't want to rely on the video games to relieve me from having to play with them, to replace human contact, to take away learning patience- what kid has to sit still quietly in a waiting room without a device in their hands now a days (or adult for that matter), to stop physical play, or to build a barrier in my relationship with my kids because I am the one having to take them away.  I hope that my reward system teaches them the value of doing hard work and how to handle time management.

How do you handle video game time?


  1. Great post Liz! We are doing the timer on the microwave. 30 min vg & 30 min tv, as long as homework and chores are complete! It's got to be so hard with 5!! Thanks for all your info, it is very helpful!

  2. I was there right with you. We only have an xBOX 360 and at times that is MORE than enough. It really started during the summer. It was like my son's attitude would totally change. I couldn't take it. I did a chore list and for every chore he completed, he would earn 5 minutes. The kicker that he had to learn was, to make sure you had time for friends to come over. There are no curteous minutes in this house. ha ha My daughter who is 5 had the same rule, except with the computer. There was no dora unless you had minutes. It is amazing how these crazy games affect so much. Cheers! Thanks for the post.