Boy Playing Video GameLimit Setting: Creating a Play Outside Childhood—in an Electronic World

Every kid begs for video games. Parents hear the plea over and over again until they’re so worn down they knuckle under and buy one. Now Mom and Dad face their worst fear, junior sits down and won’t get up. And when he does, he’s aggressive and screams, “But the game isn’t finished!” At that point all parents wonder, “What have I done?!”

Electronics are part of your daily life, too. You’re reading this online, I just hung up from my cell phone, most of your Christmas gifts were probably bought online to avoid the crowds, and soon you’ll be hopping over to Facebook to see how the holidays went for your “friends.”

Like it or not our children will need to know how to use electronics and computers in order to be successful in this world.

Did you know that the underlying principal for every video game is…wait for it…math, problem solving, and strategic thinking. Those are the skills your child is using and expanding as they play video games.

No matter what the researchers said about video games, I still wanted my kids outside, reading books, and using their imagination. Because of that, we locked horns, a lot.

Then one day at work, while the tech was fixing my computer, again, I asked, “How did you become a computer tech?” His answer rocked my world, “I played video games.” Turns out playing video games benefited my kids too. They both work in the computer industry today. But I made sure there were limits!

Here are 8 limits you can try so you can create a Play Outside Childhood in An Electronic World.  

1. Research and Check Ratings: Each game should have an ESRB (Electronic Software Rating Board) rating on it, like EC for early childhood. If it doesn’t, don’t buy it. If it looks too violent, it probably is. I really drew the line here.

2. Content Exchange: Just because your child’s peer group only talks about the “cool” or violent games, doesn’t mean that’s all they’re playing. And saying, “Try it, you’ll like it” to get your kids to try an academic game doesn’t usually work either.

However, if you purchase both types of games, one that focuses on academics and one that all the kids want, you’ll be more successful. A great rule is: In this house we alternate between academic games and fun games, every other day. If they’re unwilling you can say, “I’m guessing you’re too young to play AND follow the rules. We’ll put the game away today and see if you’re able to act older tomorrow.”

3. Common Arguments: Don’t fool yourself; there will be sharing, frustration and timing issues. Remember, games are designed to provide a full sensory immersion experience. Use a timer and post rules clearly, so there’s no argument. Coaching Audio #10, A Family Charter, on my site is all about this.
Here are 3 rules worth mentioning.
Frustration = taking a break, like it or not.
Not Sharing = timers are used to make sure things stay fair.
Negotiations or begging for more time = no play for 24 hours.

4. Time Limits: Video games are solitary and sedentary. To help offset this fact, do an activity trade. For every 30 minutes of large muscle activity i.e. running, bike riding, basketball, a child earns 10 minutes of video game time. Another way to get him up and moving is to insist that one game per day be a game that promotes movement, things like dancing, twister, or exercise games. Join him, he’ll love it and it’s great exercise for you too!

5. But the Game Isn’t Finished: Introduce the save game function to your child.  Explain to him that games are made to go on and on. That he’ll rarely complete a game by the time the timer goes off. Tell him the save game function saves his place and his points. Let him know ahead of time that it’s okay to turn the game off without a fuss since everything is saved and waiting for him tomorrow.”

6. Electronic Days and Time Management: Don’t like the idea of electronics being played everyday? Insist on electronic and non-electronic days. You can also teach time management by allowing older kids to manage their own time. Give them the total amount of time they can play this weekend and let them decide how to use it. If they fail, they loose the opportunity to manage themselves next week.

7. I Want More Time to Play: Trade chores for extra video time. This teaches kids that you earn your fun in life by working.  

8. Aggression: Apply the 5/25 Test to find out where your child’s aggression point is. Let him play a video for 5 minutes. Then he has to go outside to play for 25 minutes. Each time he comes in from playing outside for 25 minutes, increase the amount of video time he gets by 5 minutes, keeping the outside time to 25 minutes for each set. Do this until your child’s behavior turns aggressive or frustrated. That’s his saturation point. Deduct 5 minutes from the saturation point time and you’ve got his time limit. Redo the test to adjust the time when you think he’s ready.

All parents know there is another component to playing video games—arguing. There are four ways to help in Make the Endless Arguing Stop.

Sharon Silver is the author of Stop Reacting and Start Responding and The Authentic Parent Series. Go to to download two free chapters from her book and learn about other Proactive Parenting programs. Find Sharon on Twitter and Facebook.


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