Hello, mom. I wanted to share some thoughts with you regarding your family and video games that might help you like they have my family.
The days of Pong and Pac-Man are over. Space Invaders is history. Today’s interactive video games are faster, more realistic, and—some people would argue—more addictive. And chances are, your family is plugged in.
You’re not alone.
Most households are riding the wave of high-tech gadgets, rarely considering the consequences: increased stress, “connected isolation,” loneliness, bad habits and behaviors, and dangerous addictions. And when it comes to computer and video games, an estimated half a billion people worldwide spend at least an hour a day engrossed in gameplay. That’s about 3 billion hours a week—with the U.S. accounting for almost half of those hours. The computer and video game industry now garners an impressive $21 billion, not far behind the movie industry.
Positive games like Minecraft are so rewarding, kids (even adults) feel compelled to keep playing almost nonstop—from sunup to sundown if they could. Yet time spent crafting cool worlds or trying to “level up” in the latest game takes away from other activities, including important ones like sleeping, exercising, and spending time with God.
While gameplay is fun, the key to staying healthy is staying balanced. Here are four ways you can manage your family’s screen time:
Establish gaming guidelines
To help keep video game fun in balance, it’s important to establish, monitor, and enforce some family rules about when games can be played, for how long, which games kids can play or websites they can visit. These rules are much easier to monitor and enforce when kids are younger and when the screens are not in their bedrooms. Above all, discuss how video games are a privilege (rather than a right) and what the consequences will be for breaking the rules.
Help kids keep games in balance by keeping screens out of the bedroom
Current studies reveal that most families have multiple screens in their bedrooms—including a computer, a television, a smartphone, and a gaming console. Yet the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends a “no screens in the bedroom” policy. Why? (1) This can result in unsupervised gaming and / or Internet activity. (2) Being plugged in at night can interrupt sleep. Keep in mind that a “no screens in the bedroom” decision may be counterculture, so talk about why you are making this choice as a family.
Stay up to date on ESRB ratings
Examine the ratings and descriptions before purchasing a game. When managing family video game choices, it’s important to stay informed about content. This includes learning about the ESRB ratings and familiarizing yourself with how the games are played. They also present opportunities to discuss moral topics that may be part of the story line or narrative.
Familiarize yourself with the games your kids like to play.
Keep in mind that many popular games contain violence or sexuality, sometimes incorporated into storylines in subtle ways. Decades of research support a link between consumption of media violence, aggression, and violent behavior. The size of the effects vary by study. Also, some people are more susceptible to media influence than others, depending on their personality traits and histories. Therefore, it’s important for parents to talk to their kids about what they like in the games they play, what they don’t, what they are learning. If you can, spend some time playing with them.*
My prayer for you is that all your child’s activities would be fun, engaging, and promote a healthy life, one with faith and family firmly at the center.
Michael Ross is a husband and a father and the author of more than 38 books for parents and teenagers, including Building Faith Block by Block.
*Dr. Pam Ovwigho, Center for Bible Engagement, contributed to this discussion.