The Just Right Parent Column is written by Dr Toby Sachsenmaier, a Clinical Child Psychologist. This column was originally published in The Clare People of Tuesday, May 5, 2015.
Dear Dr. Toby,
Please help, I can’t stop my son from using his PlayStation. In the past I have turned it off and he got very angry.
This is a big issue for a lot of families. Video games are very addictive, and they are designed to be that way, so it’s no wonder your son has such a hard time letting go of them. But we know that too much time playing video games isn’t healthy for kids (or adults), so it’s important that he learn ways to limit how much time he spends doing this. It won’t come naturally, so you need to help him with this.
The recommended limits on screen time in total is about 2 hours per day for school children and teenagers, and much less for younger children. It is also recommended that children don’t keep electronics in their bedrooms, especially at night. These recommendations are based on research that shows long-term problems that may arise, but some parents find these limits too strict. Every family needs to make their own decisions on how much screen time is acceptable, and stick with it.
If you are not a gamer yourself, a good starting place might be to ask your child to teach you to play the game, and then play it with him for a while. This will give you a chance to connect with him over something he enjoys, and will also give you a better understanding of the game so you know how to help him turn it off when the time comes. For example, some games can be saved and started later, but other games can only be shut down after achieving a certain goal. When you understand this from his point of view, you can talk with him about how to prepare himself when it is getting close to the agreed deadline.
Try to find the balance between being too strict about this, and being too permissive. The message should be that you respect his enjoyment of the video games, but you also expect him to balance that with other activities.
Preventing problems will be more effective than having a big argument about it every day! Before you make a plan, it’s a good idea to spend a week keeping track of exactly how much of his free time is spent on video games. Every day write down how many minutes were spent on games, and make a chart or graph showing this at the end of the week. Is it 10% of his time, or 50% of his time? Then share this information with him in a non-judgmental way. He might be surprised by it.
The next thing to do is have a discussion about all the things he does or might do with his time. Some of this will be his obligations, such as studying or doing chores. And some might be another activity he might enjoy. It’s great to encourage children to experiment with different interests and activities. Decide together how much time will be spent on each activity, and consider making up a schedule. Reach an agreement about how you as a family will respond if he isn’t able to abide by this. This might be something like turning it off after a 5 minute warning. Then if he gets angry, you can talk later about other possible solutions.
There are two other things parents should think about. First, if you want your child to have good habits with his electronic devices, make sure you model that for him. A lot of children report that their parents want them to limit their screen time, but keep checking their email and Facebook pages even during dinner or other family time. Of course they get a mixed message then!
Finally, if you want your child to spend less time on video games, try to spend more time with him yourself doing things that are fun. Go on outings, cook together, plant a garden, learn to play an instrument together. It takes a bit of time and effort, but it is worth it in the long run.
Dr. Toby Sachsenmaier is a Clinical Child Psychologist with over 20 years experience. She offers a 6-week course about behaviour, emotions, and self-esteem for parents of school-age children and adolescents.
If you have a question for Dr. Toby, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions may be edited for publication, and all identifying information, such as names, will be removed. No questions will be responded to privately.