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How much time is okay for video games?

This question comes in many forms: “How much time is okay for kids to play video games?”, or “Is it okay for my child to have play video game time?”, or even “Help! My child is addicted to video games!”. While the answer will vary a bit from child to child, here are some good rules of thumb for helping our children enjoy a healthy relationship with gaming and screens in general.

These guidelines are a part of the greater principles of how to parent our children for freedom, as well as a better understanding of why our children enjoy video games. Both of these resources would be good to review before we try to answer the question of “how much is too much video game time?”.


Why does my child play video games so much?

Video game time is a tool to relax and enjoy the creative side of our minds

In many ways video games are similar to watching a movie, listening to a story, or even reading a book. We get to imagine that we score the game-winning touchdown, we create a successful business, or we even slay a dragon. Games help us dive into an environment that is very different than our own, and be faced with decisions that are usually unique to the gaming world.

You can see the appeal of video games: whether my child had a great day or a terrible day at school they can look forward to pretending to be the hero or the sports star at home that evening.


So I want to make it clear that there are some benefits to video games. Games can help us relax, improve our ability to think strategically, and even improve our eyesight.

For us as parents, we need to help our children learn how to enjoy good things in life without overindulging. This applies not only to video games but also to food, dating relationships, friends, etc. If we can use video games as a tool to teach our children how to set up healthy boundaries, they will be able to use this discipline in almost every area of life.


A healthy amount of video games

According to most research, video games best serve as a supplement to a rich life of stimulation from other of entertainment. Oxford University recently determined that children thrive when video games are limited to less than an hour a day. This amount of time allowed the children to immerse themselves in a fun video game, exercise the strategic side of their brain, and then jump back into other rewarding activities easily. Several other research projects have concurred that an hour or less of video gaming a day is healthy for most people.

Playing more than 3 hours of video games a day typically led to the negative side-effects that parents worry about: difficulty disconnecting from video games, lowered social ability, and increased irritability.


Helping your child with video games

Many parents will think less than an hour is either too little or too much time playing video games, and that is okay to disagree. But ask yourself this hard question: what is your end goal with however long you feel is appropriate for your child to play video games?Video games can easily be a free break time for us as parents. They can just as easily be a source of fear that we try to overprotect our child from. Both of these are pitfalls we could fall into.

Our children need us to guide them to understand our culture and world, including how to interact with all areas of life. Whether video games or sports or school – our children need our wisdom on how to navigate each area of life. In fact, we can play video games with our child to model for them the habits we hope they will practice when they are adults.

So when we think about helping our children to limit video games, try to do it in a way that will inspire them to replicate these wise limits when they are adults.


Talking about video game time

Gaming will probably be an ongoing topic with your child. After all, even if your child plays a healthy amount it is likely that many of their friends do not. So try talking about some of these areas over the next few weeks with your child. This will help you have an ongoing conversation with them about one of their favorite diversions, and that will strengthen your relationship with them in several key ways.


A few topics to discuss with your kids:

  • Which games do they enjoy the most? Which parts of each game are their favorite?
  • What frustrates them in a video game? Which games are not fun unless they play for long periods of time?
  • Does your child notice when they start enjoying the game less? How long does it take them to become zoned out of playing?
  • What other activities does your child enjoy doing instead of playing games? It is great to have a list of alternatives to try for when your child is wishing they could game some more. A few ideas include playing outside with a friend, drawing about their game, or reading a book.
  • What do they wish they were better at in a video game?
  • If they could create their own game, what type of game would they make? What would the main character be like? What would the plot be?