Video games are fun and exciting, and they can, occasionally, be educational. Gaming can improve eye-hand coordination, and may foster positive social interactions. Children with little athletic interest or ability have an opportunity to compete in a different way, and to form friendships with like-minded gamers.
But as time that was previously spent on sports , studies, or other peer activities is replaced by solitary gaming, video games can become an 'addiction.'
Recent surveys show that children spend an average of 49 minutes a day on these games. If a child’s video-game console is in the bedroom, play time increases dramatically, to nearly three hours. Parents may unwittingly contribute to the problem, if they rely on handheld games to keep their children quiet during endless car trips or the long, unstructured days of summer .
In recent years, I’ve spoken with many parents who are looking for ways to wean their kids from the screen. Here’s what I tell them.
Understand the appeal
Video games hold special attractions for children with ADHD. A child who’s bothered by distractibility in the real world may be capable of intense focus, or hyperfocus , while playing. Nor is hyperactivity a problem; a child can hold the controllers and stand or pace back and forth in front of the TV as he plays.
For children who struggle with social skills , or lack the skills to play team sports, these games entertain and level the playing field. Computer games are emotionally safe. When a child strikes out in a baseball game, he’s doing it in front of a crowd of peers. But when he makes a mistake while playing a video game, no one else has to know.
Video-game errors aren’t circled in red ink by teachers, either. In fact, making mistakes helps the player improve. By trial and error, he learns the specific action needed to advance the next time. There is satisfaction in steadily improving and, ultimately, winning, with no chance of failing or being teased.
Any parent of a young ADDer knows that children with ADHD often lack the capacity for self-regulation. This is particularly true when it comes to pleasurable activities that invite and reward hyperfocus. Thus, parents must be the ones to set and enforce limits — especially with children who have already become used to video-game overuse.
Both parents must first agree on a set of rules. This task is often the hardest. How long can our child play on school nights? Must homework be done first? Chores? How about on weekends? Which games are forbidden entirely (see “Kid-friendly Content,” at left)? If our child wants to play Internet-based games, which sites are OK?
Sit down with your child to discuss the rules and explain how they’ll be enforced. Let’s say, your daughter is allowed to spend 30 minutes playing computer games on school nights. She can begin playing only after she’s finished her homework (and you’ve looked it over and helped her pack it in her bookbag) and completed her chores (and you’ve checked them off on her chore chart). Then announce that the rules start now.