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7 Ways to Wean your Child off Video Games

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Video games have taken the place of playing outside for many kids today. As parents, should we intervene?

By Greg Seaman, Eartheasy Posted Feb 8, 2011

Child playing video gamesThe appeal of today’s ubiquitous video games is based on sound value – the games are fun, the action is fast, the challenges are inviting. Yet when kids and teens spend time in front of small screens – whether it’s the TV, computer or hand-held games – it takes away from the time they could spend playing sport, learning other skills or enjoying active play.

When children constantly receive their entertainment through computer games, they develop an increasing desire for instant entertainment which decreases their attention span and hurts their listening skills. And while studies link excessive gaming with conditions like depression, anxiety and social phobia, simple common sense dictates that too much time spent playing online games is counter-productive to a child’s healthy growth and development.

The goal of a frustrated parent should not be to remove the child’s access to these activities, but to help the child find balance between time spent using these devices and time spent in independent activity, outdoor experiences in nature, and plenty of physical activity which a growing body craves.

What not to do

It is surprising that many articles which discuss strategies to reduce video-gaming time suggest “tiger-mom” measures such as removing the computer from the child’s room, installing access-limiting software, or simply pulling the plug on the computer. These methods, in my opinion, are confrontational, and send a message that the child lacks self-control. Pulling the plug will only drive your child elsewhere, perhaps to a friend’s house where controls are less strict.

Cooperation and respect should be the tools of first choice. I think the best way to wean kids of video-game dependence is to have the children themselves see the consequences of too much time online and make the decision for themselves to bring more balance into their lives.

Here are some suggestions which my wife and I have tried to help reduce the amount of time our children spent playing video games.

1. Play a video game with your child.

Let your child teach you one of their favorite video games and give it a try. You may find the game instructive, challenging, or deplorable. In any case, you’re showing your child that you are open-minded and willing to try something new. After all, this is what you’re asking of your child in having them reduce time spent on video games. There’s a better chance your child will listen to your suggestions when you’ve shown a willingness to understand the appeal of these games.

2. For one week, keep a log of the time spent playing video games.

Ask your child to keep a record of time spent on gaming. (Or keep a record yourself.) At the end of one week, show them a visual representation of how much of their free time is going to this activity. Is it 10% of their time, or 50%? It’s likely that your child hasn’t considered this, and may be surprised at the results. Once you have some actual data, any argument over the amount of time spent on gaming is eliminated, and you can see if there is a problem, and to what degree.

3. Show them what that amount of time represents in other activities.

With some thought, you can develop a list of activities and opportunities that can be achieved in the same amount of time spent gaming. For example, in 1/4 that time you could learn to play a musical instrument. In 1/2 that time you could improve in a sport, learn how to fish, how to sew, grow a garden…. As a parent, you should be prepared to contribute to the new instrument, help the child get started in an activity program, or help buy supplies or equipment. The goal of this exercise is to show the child what activities he or she may be missing.

4. Arrange active indoor or outdoor activities for your children and their friends.

Help do the thinking and planning for alternative activities for your children. (They may be out of practice.) To make it more appealing, look for ways to include your children’s friends. Check the newspapers, your local community center, or school guidance counselors for local programs and resources for youth sports and activity programs. For example, your community may offer a boating club, sports programs, hikes, mountain bike trails, adventure trips, or other fun outdoor activities.

Offline activities do not always need to be extravagant or expensive. During high school, our son had regular Friday night poker parties with his friends. We enjoyed hearing them laughing and chatting in the back room, and kept them supplied with chips and drinks to help make it fun. Besides the obvious fun of the poker game, these young people were refining their communication and social skills, and planning other activities they could enjoy together.

5. Start a long-term project of your child’s choosing.

Your child may have an interest or goal that seems out of reach. If you can tap into something your child is passionate about, you may be able to help them realize their passion. Most children don’t think of long-term projects, but you can show them how planning and budgeting their time and money can bring big rewards.

When my son was 14 years old, he showed an interest in sailing. We gave him a pile of Wooden Boat magazines and asked him to choose a small design which we could build together. He chose a 14-foot daysailer, and we spent Saturdays during the school year doing the project. Over time, his friends began hanging out with us. They also found the project interesting, and enjoyed seeing something develop from a sheet of plans to an actual sailboat. And when the project was done, there was a new activity to enjoy.

Your child might want to build a surfboard, restore an old car (and learn a lot in the process), sew a dress, build a guitar, make a treehouse, create a garden, make a mountain bike course, or take on some other big challenge. Of course, as a parent your participation is required to help finance the project and help see it to completion. But a long term project with your child is rewarding to the parent as well!

6. Acknowledge your child’s efforts in offline pursuits.

One of the appealing aspects of video games is that anyone can play and receive instant gratification. Other skills, such as playing music, require time, effort and self-discipline before they become truly enjoyable. You can help your children find satisfaction in offline pursuits by acknowledging their efforts and progress along the way.

Research performed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has found that the way parents offer approval affects the way children perform and the way they feel about themselves. Dweck has conducted studies in which adolescent subjects were given a set of difficult problems from an IQ test. Afterward, some of the young people were praised for their ability: ”You must be smart at this.” Others were praised for their efforts: “You must have worked very hard.” The kids who were complimented on their intelligence were much more likely to turn down the opportunity to do a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their deficiencies and call into question their talent. Ninety percent of the kids who were praised for their hard work, however, were eager to take on the demanding new exercise.

7. Have family meals together.

Playing video games is often a solitary activity. Even when my son had friends over, they would often sit beside each other at their own laptops, playing in parallel but not together.

Eating dinner together as a family provides a valuable opportunity for communication. A scheduled meal together helps lift children from the isolated bubble of their game consoles and engage the other members of the family in the exchange of ideas. Family dinners should be a place for open discussion, where the children can discuss their gaming accomplishments, should they choose, and where they can also hear the interests of all family members, which helps put time spent gaming in perspective. Dinnertime is also an opportunity for family members to discuss a variety of interests outside of the video-game arena and plan upcoming activities.

A “Family Dinner Experiment” conducted by Oprah Winfrey in 1993 challenged five families to eat dinner together every night for a month for at least a half an hour. At first the families found it difficult but by the end of the study they wanted to continue eating dinner together. The biggest surprise for the parents was “how much their children treasured the dependable time with their parents at the table.”

Encouraging your child to spend less time playing video games requires more hands-on time from the parents. This is not always easy, given the busy schedules of parents today. But the rewards are rich as we see our children grow, and as we spend more time with them.

Reference:
Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s Motivation and Performance” by Claudia M. Mueller, Ph.D. & Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 75, No. 1.

Posted in Connect with Nature Tags , , ,
  • Tara

    What contributes to kids spending so much time online is being a single-parent. The computer is like a baby sitter. It keeps my child safe at home, and happily occupied. Your suggestions are good but many of us have almost no extra time to spend with our kids.

    • Greg Seaman

      Yes. I understand. Perhaps you can find ways for your children to help you find more time. There are simple recipes that can enable them to cook dinner once in a while, for example. Assign them chores to reduce your workload. Children can rise to the occasion when they know you need their help.

  • akbar

    exactly once, we should be able to keep our children are not addicted to the game. because it would harm the child.

    nice article, thanks…

  • http://www.infozooms.com/ InfoZooms

    Set up the right expectations and discuss a fair time limit with your kids. Then everyone will be on the same page and there will be less disappointment.

  • momoftwo

    I agree with each of your suggestions! As a mom of preteens, I want them to have their own challenges and successes, not ones that are fabricated by some game developer. We as parents have to help set our children up for success, and once they have some of their own accomplishments, they are more eager and confident to try other new challenges.

    • Greg Seaman

      well said!

  • Dustin

    I have to admit I used to spend quite a bit of time on video games, well mainly computer games. I personally wish I was pushed more to get out and spend more time outside.

  • Corrosion Monitoring

    I have XBOX in my house, and because of that, my son has addicted to that console game,,
    This post maybe can help me

    thanks

  • nikos

    i like your tips,very helpful,but its difficult to keep away the children from these games.i think these children need doctor and every day check their way their acting in school,family,friends.Technology is like honey!!very sweet,but parents must be carefull for their childrens health.

  • Yoshi

    Yeah I like the idea of parents joining in. I remember back in early 80s when my father sat down and tried to play famicom with us. At first I was, yeah cool, okay. Then it was more like I'm going to go outside and ride my bike – you play as much as you like.

  • http://thedigitalpost.co.uk Jose Jimenez

    1. Play a video game with your child… what happens if the parents get hooked? ;-)

    Joking aside, there are some great tips here including the above. Kids more often than not want to share what they do with parents and especially those in the early teens and younger. I have 2 girls and they play the Nintendo DS (they share one) only at weekends and a bit more during the holidays. Its about finding the right balance between computer games and other activities.

  • Orthotics Niagara

    It is all about habits and if you get them into the right ones while they are young…you will have less worries in the future..its an investment that pays off down the road

  • Suzanne @ Mind Tree

    Great post. It’s a big problem in today’s age. Children are more into video games instead of outdoor games.

  • Sarath

    The suggestions given in the article on how to save children from getting addicted to video games are worthy to be tried out by parents who really want their children engaged in other activities too in a balanced way. The article is quite good and helpful

  • Elias Sharma

    Wow! I’m really enjoying the theme of this website. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very difficult to get that balance between user friendliness and visual appearance. I must say you have done a very good job with this. Also, the blog loads super quick for me on Internet explorer. Outstanding site!

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks Elias!

  • http://www.acnedietsreview.org Anthony Vanwhy

    I wish someone had given this advice to my mother when I was a kid. She went against every tip given on the list and I fought her every step of the way because of it.

  • Nero

    #1thing todo is stop buying them kids consoles, i have no kids buy, i think that my experience is what helps u the most.
    so im tryn to help my wife with her 18 boy who does nothig but play online alll night, so im tryn some steps if they work i will come back and share..
    Thanks for the time!!!!!!!
    Great tips here!!!

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Well if you have decent grades that shows you are putting effort where it counts.
    Video games are a way for people to relax, so time on the Xbox is not necessarily a waste of time. Like most things in life, it is a matter of balance. Get outside for some activities that balance time spent on the box. Your mom will see you’re making the effort.

    • daniel panhwar

      Well if you’re playing for 5-6 hours a day or even 3 is to much, take breaks read a book and go outside and do your shool work keep everything Balanced so your mom thinks that you are doing more then video games.

  • Breda Shannon

    My boy is hooked on minecraft which is a game where he mines underground for stuff.I gave him a spade and told him to go dig the garden!

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Great comments Makayla! Your experiences are at the heart of challenges many young parents are facing today. I think the younger generation feels an identification with technology that older folks do not, and we parents need to acknowledge the benefits available on the web. At the same time, it’s our responsibility to guide our children to a place of balance between outdoor play and indoor technology use. You are concerned about your child and pay attention to his activities, which is half the battle. I think you are well on your way to achieving a balance and teaching the value of outdoor activity to your child.

    • Makayla

      Ah, yes… I am actually part of that ‘millennial’ generation as of one study I read that labeled it as anyone born on or after 1982. I must say, I was young when computers came out, and my father dove into the field. He is currently a programmer and developer which is amazing… but I did grow up with computers in the house and a high influence of technology. It’s certainly important, but I think people need to realize that computers are made so user friendly that there are literally infants who have cracked the code to get what they want. This isn’t an educational source that is imperative to learn at a young age. With this sort of technology we need to ensure we are supplementing our children with actual experiences instead of allowing them to only learn online. That is essentially what is killing creativity, but with the death of creativity is the death of original thought… which is the only way to grow. And a slightly off topic side note, what good is a democracy without original thought?
      My idea is that as part of this high tech generation, we need to first limit ourselves or we really can’t limit our children. They still learn best from modeling and if we model screen time with computers, tv’s, phones, etc… limiting their screen time will not happen.
      There is really so much that encompasses the effects of technology that it is hard to even touch it. But certainly this is a huge start. I really wish people had the know how to go back to the library and read articles and studies on their own so they could come up with their own conclusion and how it would change their personal life.
      There is also the ‘helicopter’ parent; which the US has been correctly labeled as. This essentially creates the same results… we are killing original thought out of many branches of growth, not just one.

      • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

        Very interesting thoughts.
        Our children were raised in a homestead environment where they had lots of chores outdoors. We were always working on projects and they participated since this is how the lifestyle works. When they began with technology, they already had an embedded respect for nature and love of outdoor activities. I think that parents need to limit their young childs exposure to technology, not entirely, but enough to achieve a balance. Also, we very often participate with our children doing homesteading tasks, so they have the benefit of our company, and our tutelege. With technology, they are sitting alone communicating with people somewhere else without the benefits of close companionship. We built our children small boats so they could invite friends to go fishing and exploring. They never brought along any tech gadgets and got some good outdoor experiences.

  • unknown

    my brother is all-ways on the x-box 360 he is only 8 and weighs about 190 I don’t know what to do I unplug it and more finally I took him swimming and sledding and now he is way better!!!!

  • Insomniac Mom

    My son is 14 and while he has xbox and we have had similar experiences with it, it’s the sum total of all the devices, computer, ipad, xbox, TV and phone. We are guilty of providing him access to all of these and we use them too in our daily life (not xbox). However, it is taking over his life. After schoolwork and Lacrosse, all his free time is taken up with electronics. He has no other outside interests. I feel he is becoming more introverted and rude and irritable. He is really not nice or pleasing to me or his sister or his Dad for that matter. We correct him and give consequences for his behavior, however, what we see is that he needs to have other interests especially with summer coming up. We sat down and had a discussion that we are going to have to limit the screen time (xbox, tv, ipad, computer, phone) to 2 hours a day during the summer and he had to make a list of projects and things to fill his time during the summer. His first response was “can I save up for a week and have a marathon one day a week?”. We said we would work with him but an all day marathon was probably extreme. We also made a list of suggestions which was coming up with a project to work on. It worked!! He is coming up with some summer projects after our prodding. Here lies the dilemma. His projects include: 1) making a home made Gillie suit. If you don’t know what that is because I didn’t, it’s an extreme camo suit with grass and string that makes you look like a Sasquach. It’s for playing Airsoft wars. 2) Buying a new airsoft gun and taking it apart and changing it into another type of weapon. Sort of like taking a shot gun and sawing it off to make a sawed off shotgun. 3) making a mini version of the 7 foot potato gun that he and his Dad made last year. It would be more like a grenade launcher with those small red potatoes. We back to open space but we are still in the suburbs. So you see the theme. What do I do? What happened to go carts?

    • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

      It sounds like you are making progress. The Gillie suit and AirSoft are typical interests for teenage boys, at least it gets them outside. This may lead to camping, canoeing, fishing and more wholesome outdoor interests.

  • http://eartheasy.com/ Greg Seaman

    Thanks Jake for this great comment. It’s helpful to see your side of the discussion. Parents just want to make sure their kids have a balanced life, and it sounds like you are aware of the need for balance as well.

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