Ask the Experts

How Can I Break My Child’s Minecraft Obsession?

One parent asks our expert for advice on how to set limits on video game play and how to lessen a Minecraft obsession for ADHD children.

Q: “Our 8-year-old recently earned the opportunity to play Minecraft after a year of waiting. It has been a great motivational tool and I like the imaginative/creative aspect of it. However, it frightens me to see how his interest in this game has quickly turned in to an obsession, and how isolating it is becoming for him. We try to make it interactive by playing as a family in local-server-multiplayer mode when possible, because we want to observe how he plays, be involved in his interests and stay on top of whatever he’s doing online. But if allowed to, he would play Minecraft 24/7-and do nothing else. Are there any iOS apps that can help us enforce time limits-perhaps giving him a 5-minute warning, a 2-minute and then locking the device? What tools and methods do you recommend for helping him learn screen time self-control?”

A: Minecraft and other video games can be very powerful motivational tools. However, sometimes the restrictive limits that parents set on access can make these technologies too attractive. Kids who were once not allowed to play can become over-focused on access. They go overboard, like the kid who drinks bottles of soda at a birthday party because his mom won’t allow it in their house.

I encourage parents not to use video games as a reward because doing so makes game play a prize rather than one of many normal activities. Video games should be something that you do without my fanfare – like playing outside with your friends, competing on a sports team, reading a book, or hanging out with your family.

[Beyond Minecraft: How to Get Your Child to Log Off]

Playing as a family in local-server-multiplayer mode is a great idea, and I wish more parents would follow your lead. You’re absolutely correct that playing together allows you to watch how he plays-but, more importantly, it opens a dialog about his problem solving. It also prompts metacognition by encouraging out-loud thinking during game play and working on social and collaborative skills. At LearningWorks for Kids, we strongly encourage parents to play games with their kids for these reasons, and we give them specific goals in the “Play Together” sections of our game guides.

Playing together also allows you to model moderation of screen time and to discuss this issue at an 8-year-old level. I believe that having these discussions at the age of 8 could help him to develop self-control as he grows up.

Finally, I do recommend a few tools and strategies that help set time limits and access to electronic media. Apps such as Timelock or Kid Screen Time work well to monitor screen time. If homework on the computer is to be done between certain hours every night, a browser add-on such as LeechBlock can prevent social media and other online distractions. Here is a full and complete list of limit-setting tools to fit the needs of any kid or family.