Ask the Experts

How Can We Wean Our Child Off Video Games?

“My 12-year-old son plays video games after school for four hours each day, and up to eight hours on weekend days. How do we reduce this to two hours a day? When we try to get him to stop, he goes ballistic.”

Parents often report how difficult it is to reduce their child’s time spent playing video games. In this case, there are compelling reasons to make the effort. Research shows that playing video games for more than three hours per day is detrimental to your child’s psychological adjustment and academic performance. So capping play time at less than three hours per day, especially on school days, is well worth your effort.

With a 12-year-old, set general parameters of what you will allow. If your child truly loves video games and he is performing well at school, allowing two hours per school day is not inappropriate, though it may be at the high end of expert recommendations. Consider allowing your child to have a bit more video game time on the weekends with a slight reduction during the weekdays. In order to accomplish this, you’ll want to have a very clear discussion about why you are concerned and what you’re planning to do with your child. Help him to become part of the solution so he won’t view himself as a prisoner of his parents’ whims.

My suggestion for weekdays is relatively simple. Register your child in other activities so that there is simply less time available to play video games. I often refer to balancing video game play with other activities in my discussions of a healthy play diet. Make sure that at least one hour of his day is spent taking part in some form of physical exercise. Some of this time needs to be spent outdoors. While I don’t encourage over-scheduling kids, some kids who get too engaged in a video game need to have a busy schedule. This might include karate class, music lessons, or a sports team.

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Another strategy is to make video game play contingent on the completion of all homework and grades being kept at a particular level. This can ensure that necessary time is taken to complete schoolwork, again reducing the amount of time available to play video games. Additionally, many parents find that shutting down electronics in their household at 8 or 9 p.m. promotes better sleep. A wealth of scientific evidence suggests that children (and adults) should not be engaged in screen-based activities in the hour before they go to sleep.

You will probably need to deal with your child’s outbursts for the first week or two after you implement these strategies. However, most kids are able to adjust. You might also consider allowing more productive technology play. While there is nothing wrong with playing Minecraft, too much of it does not provide any additional learning opportunities. But if your child begins making Minecraft videos, building his own computers, learning coding skills, or joining the computer club at school, he will be learning a host of new skills.