Mom with ??.285Video Games: Suck hole or Valuable?

Parent Question: “I’m facing a child that has been spending too much time on the computer and is not interested in balancing his time spent with other activities. I have made the mistake of not creating boundaries and am wondering how to back track while respecting his passion for gaming (and his potential lapse in confidence to face the world).”

Answer: 
The first thing you need to do is separate the two issues. There is his “potential lapse in confidence” and there is his gaming. Unless you distingish between the two, for yourself and when you speak to him, he won’t cooperate with you.

Let’s talk gaming first. I hated video games. Hated them! I had one child who happily played outside each day, and one who only wanted to play video games. One day, when I was at work, (It was a time when I had another job other than just being a parenting educator. Shocking, I know!)  I went in to talk to our IT guy. I asked him how he learned about computers? He said, “video games!” I was relieved and frustrated at the same time. My son was really good at video games. At 8 yrs. old he could beat any adult, and almost every kid he played with. I had hoards of kids in the house competing with him. So I decided to work with that, instead of fight with that. Here are some suggestions.

Have a family meeting and bring up your concerns. Praise your son for his success with video games. These days life revolves around technology. Who knows what his future profession with turn out to be? Both of my son’s work in the tech industry, and it started with video games! Allow your son to have input into the rules that will regulate his video game time.

Violence: Look on each game for the ESRB (Electronic Software Rating Board) rating. They use ratings like EC for early childhood etc. Create a rule that says, if there are no ratings, or there’s a very violent rating, then I will not purchase that game. Make time to discuss the violence that is part of video games. These ongoing discussions will allow you and your husband/partner to share how you feel about violence, guns, war, etc. These ongoing talks are a great opportunity to pass on your values in a way that will most likely hold his interest. As he gets older it may seem like he isn’t hearing what you have to say about your values, but trust me, the information is getting in there. If he refuses to participate, use the video game as currency. Tell him the video games are suspended until he’s willing to fully participate in a family discussion violence etc.

Types of games played: Just because your child’s peer group only talks about the “cool” games doesn’t mean that’s all they’re playing. During your family meeting create a rule that says he must rotate between academic games and fun games. If he won’t, then the game is unplugged and he can try again tomorrow. Challenge him with the academic games. Let him play chess, geography games, advanced math, whatever holds his interest.

Time spent Playing video games: Video games are solitary and sedentary. To help offset this fact, do an activity trade. This will also help him with his “lapse in self confidence.” For every 30 minutes, or whatever you decide is appropriate, of large muscle activity, i.e. running, bike riding, basketball, he can earn 10-20 minutes of video game time. Another thing you can do is purchase games that promote movement, things like dancing, or exercise games.

Declare Nonelectronic Days: I’m on the computer every-single-day and I’ve noticed that my body, my brain, my eyes need a break, and so does my soul. I need fresh air, human interaction, and nature to balance me. Kids do too. Create nonelectronic family days. No cell phones, no TV, no computers, nothing. Do something as a family and enjoy!

Aggression: You didn’t mention this in your question, but others may have this issue. Some kids overload on video games and get aggressive as a result. Figure out what your child’s aggression point is. Let him play video games for 5 minutes. Then he has to go outside for 15 minutes. Increase the amount of video game to outdoor activity ratio, until he becomes aggressive. That’s his aggression point. Now you know what his time limit is and you can adjust the rules to fit his personal saturation point.

For younger kids: When you ask a child to turn off a video game and he screams, “it’s not done!” it’s time to introduce him to the “save game” function. Teach him he can stop the game, without losing anything, and return tomorrow. This will stop a lot of fights.

Lapse in confidence: This is something both boys and girls go through. Since you’re writing about your son, I will focus there. Not every young boy is confident right out of the gate. We all want our kids to be confident, some just need more time than others. Is his “lapse in confidence” your assessment of his abilities? Or has he stated that he doesn’t feel confident? Once you’ve established who’s perception of this you’re dealing with, try asking him what he’s interested in now, other than video games. Also ask him what he’s always wished he could try. One young boy wanted to join the circus. His mom found acrobat classes at a local kids center. Once he found others who held similar interests he blossomed into a very confident kid. There are the regular activities, and there are activities that are off the beaten path. Things like book binding, drawing, painting, blacksmithing, gardening, cooking, fencing, swiming, boating, rowing, and so much more. I hope this helps.

*If you like what you read here, download two free chapters of Proactive Parenting’s book, Stop Reacting and Start Responding at http://proactiveparenting.net/about-the-book-2