Brother and Sister playing on a laptop computerMaking Video Games Healthy for Kids

These days every kid begs for video games. You hear the begging day in and day out until you’re so worn down you knuckle under and buy the darn thing.

As soon as your kid gets the video game he refuses to stop playing, even though he promised to follow the rules. Or when you ask her to take a break she screams, “But the game isn’t finished!” Now you wonder what in the world have I gotten myself into?

Let’s be real here, electronics are part of your daily life, too. You’re reading this on your computer or iPad, you just got a text on your iPhone, and probably checked Facebook at least twice since you got up.

Like it or not our children 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.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think kids belong outside, or reading books, or doing something that uses their imagination.

I used to lock horns with my kids about video games every—single—day, till the day I asked a techie guy, “How did you become a computer tech?” His answer rocked my world, “I played video games.”

After recovering from that news, and doing some research, I did let them play, shocking, I know. And I created some firm unbreakable rules regarding video games, too. Turns out playing video games benefited my kids in the long run as well, they both work in the computer industry, today.

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. Rotate in Academic Games

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. Try These 3 Rules

Don’t fool yourself; there will be sharing, frustration and time issues. Remember, games are designed to provide a full sensory immersion experience. Use a timer and post rules clearly, so there’s no argument.

Here are three key rules:

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. Set 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, or 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. Introduce the ‘Save Game’ Function

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. Declare “Non-electronic Days”

Don’t like the idea of games being played everyday? Insist on “electronic days” and “non-electronic days.” You can also teach time management by allowing older kids to manage their own game time. For instance, give them the total amount of time they can play this weekend and let them decide how to use it. If they fail, they lose the opportunity to manage themselves next week.

7. Have Them Earn Game Time

Trade chores for extra video time. This teaches kids that you earn your fun in life by working.

8. Figure Out Your Child’s “Aggression Point”

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 (or do something else) to play for 25 minutes. Each time he does his other activity for 25 minutes; increase the amount of video time he gets by 5 minutes, keeping the other activity 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.

We can’t forget to insist that our kids play outside and expereince boredom so they create memories by doing the simple fun things that kids have done for generations. The goal is have kids experience things that are relaxing, not stimulating, so they will always be able to refer back to how to relax when they need too. Enjoy your summer!


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