Screen Time

Q: How Do I Get My Child Off Video Games Without a Huge Fight?!

“In this situation, when it is clearly difficult for your child to self-regulate his video game time, it is best for you to get as much control over his environment as possible to set him up for success.”

Joystick in game. Close-up of hands holding gamepad. Games concept.

Q: “Video games have a strong hold over my child. When it’s time for him to get off a game, he simply refuses and no amount of punishment has changed this behavior. Similarly, when he’s supposed to be in online class or doing homework, he often sneaks off to play video games instead. In the few times we’ve been able to get him off, he yells, stomps around, and has a sour attitude for the rest of the day. What can we do about these games?”

There’s been a huge proliferation of gaming devices and avenues for playing video games (beyond game consoles!) over recent years, which has made this all-too-common problem so much harder for modern parents. Add to that remote learning and the absence of external motivators, and it is easier for children to get distracted and seek stimulation on devices.

A child with ADHD will find it even more difficult to manage impulses and transition away from an entertaining activity to something like homework, school, or even sleep.

1. Regain Video Game Control

When it is clearly difficult for your child to self-regulate, it is best for you to get as much control over his environment as possible and set him up for success. Some ideas for controls include:

  • Setting parental controls on all devices that can connect to games, be it desktop computers, laptops, iPads and tablets, and/or phones.
  • Moving charging stations closer to you where you can monitor activity.
  • Keeping video game controllers and other necessary accessories in one secure place and creating a “check-out” system for them (like a library).
  • Using software, applications, and other technologies to limit access to certain activities.
  • You may create a setting on your son’s computer, for instance, that blocks access to a certain URL during school hours.

[Read: An “Ethics Manual” for Your Teen’s Electronics]

Your child may protest these measures, but you must explain to him that you will relax controls on his video games as you see him trying, in earnest, to manage his impulses more consciously.

You can also set limits based on behaviors you want to see. Your child may be allowed to play video games as a reward for completing homework, but the time spent playing, for example, could depend on how calm he stayed the last time he transitioned off the devices.

2. See the Value of Video Games

Playing video games can be a relaxing, fun, and rewarding activity that helps many children (even adults) blow off steam. That’s why it is important to still provide your child with opportunities to play his video games rather than cut him off entirely, regardless of whether he sticks to the controls you lay out.

It is also important to have an understanding of how most games are designed nowadays. Many popular video games are multiplayer, where passing through levels depends on working together as a team – usually with friends. In this setup, it can be hard to simply stop the game in the exact moment you tell him to. Doing so may mean that he’s abandoning his friends in the middle of a quest or at another inopportune moment. Stopping a few minutes later, or when he clears or fails the mission, may make more sense. Keep this in mind when setting limits on video games; providing a soft barrier ahead of time might be the most reasonable route.

Too Much Video Game Play: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived from the ADDitude Expert Webinar “Discipline Strategies for ADHD: How to Manage Your Child’s Most Challenging Behaviors” [Video Replay & Podcast #346] with David Anderson, Ph.D., which was broadcast live on March 2, 2021.

Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.