How Much Minecraft Is Too Much?
“My child wants to be playing Minecraft or watching Minecraft videos every moment of his free time. What is the maximum amount of time I should allow him to spend on screens on school days? On weekends?”
The rule of thumb for healthy video-game play is one hour per day maximum. There is compelling data to suggest that one hour of gaming each day is actually better for mental health than is video-game abstinence. This is based upon a large study of more than 4,000 children ages 10 to 15 that found that kids who played video games for one hour a day displayed better psychological adjustment than did those who did not play at all or who played for more than three hours per day. Children who played two hours a day did not derive the benefits of video-game play that the more modest players acquired.
However, up to two hours per day is not seen as detrimental to the psychological health of a child who is physically, socially, and academically active.
When setting time limits on video-game play, I encourage parents to consider the child’s school performance and level of engagement in other interests, plus the family’s sensibilities about gaming and mental health issues that may make limit setting problematic. On weekends and holidays, I suggest a bit more flexibility. Up to three hours can be OK if the child is engaged in physical, social, creative, and unstructured play the rest of the day. If your child has spent her Saturday engaged in healthy physical play, done some reading, practiced an instrument, and then wants to play a game she loves for two to three hours, I don’t see too much harm in this. It is when game play is the child’s sole interest and life revolves around Minecraft that I become concerned.
To make a good decision about much Minecraft is OK, you need to consider many other issues.
1. How old is your child? Age and developmental concerns are primary; younger children should be playing less than older kids.
2. Is game play solitary or social? In the 21st-century, kids often don’t go outside to play with the neighbors. Instead, they hurry home from school to play Minecraft or Call of Duty with friends. This is becoming the norm for 21st-century socialization and play. I strongly encourage more flexible limits for social/digital play.
3. Is your child’s play balanced and healthy? Is he involved in a variety of activities? Does he have other interests? Does he spend time in face-to-face activities with peers?
4. How are they doing in school? Would they benefit from more time working on the schoolwork but choose to play video games instead?
5. What is unique about your child? Is your child someone who can become obsessed with gameplay? Does your child struggle to transition from gameplay to other more important activities? Does your child become overly irritable, angry, or moody after gameplay?
If you are interested in more detail about how to apply screen time schedules to children of different ages and styles, I have written a series of articles about this topic.