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8 Ways to Make Video Games Palatable

Every kid begs for video games. Parents hear the plea over and over again until they’re so worn down they knuckle under and buy one. But as soon as you buy the game, the real trouble begins: junior sits down and won’t get up. And when he does, he’s aggressive, screaming, “But the game isn’t finished!” At that point you wonder, “What have I done?!”

Electronics are part of your daily life, too. You’re reading this online, I just hung up from my cell phone, most of your Christmas gifts were probably bought online to avoid the crowds, and soon you’ll be hopping over to Facebook to see how the holidays went for your “friends.”

Like it or not our children will need to know how to use electronics and computers in order to be successful in this world.

Did you know that the underlying principal for every video game is…wait for it…math, problem solving, and strategic thinking? Those are the skills your child is using and expanding as they play video games.

No matter what the researchers said about video games, I still wanted my kids outside, reading books, and using their imagination. Because of that, we locked horns, a lot.

Then one day at work, while the tech was fixing my computer, again, I asked, “How did you become a computer tech?” His answer rocked my world, “I played video games.” Turns out playing video games benefited my kids, too. They both work in the computer industry today. But I made sure there were limits!

Here are 8 limits you can try so you can create a play outside childhood in an electronic world.

1. Research and Check Ratings

 Each game should have an ESRB (Electronic Software Rating Board) rating on it, like EC for early childhood. If it doesn’t, don’t buy it. If it looks too violent, it probably is. I really drew the line here.

2. Rotate in Academic Games

 Just because your child’s peer group only talks about the “cool” or violent games, doesn’t mean that’s all they’re playing. And saying, “Try it, you’ll like it” to get your kids to try an academic game doesn’t usually work either.

However, if you purchase both types of games, one that focuses on academics and one that all the kids want, you’ll be more successful. A great rule is: In this house we alternate between academic games and fun games, every other day. If they’re unwilling you can say, “I’m guessing you’re too young to play AND follow the rules. We’ll put the game away today and see if you’re able to act older tomorrow.”

3. Try These 3 Rules

 Don’t fool yourself; there will be sharing, frustration and time issues. Remember, games are designed to provide a full sensory immersion experience. Use a timer and post rules clearly, so there’s no argument. Here are three key rules:

Frustration = taking a break, like it or not.

Not Sharing = timers are used to make sure things stay fair.

Negotiations or begging for more time = no play for 24 hours.

4. Set Time Limits

 Video games are solitary and sedentary. To help offset this fact, do an activity trade. For every 30 minutes of large muscle activity, i.e. running, bike riding, or basketball, a child earns 10 minutes of video game time.

Another way to get him up and moving is to insist that one game per day be a game that promotes movement, things like dancing, twister, or exercise games. Join him, he’ll love it, and it’s great exercise for you too!

5. Introduce the ‘Save Game’ Function

Introduce the ‘save game’ function to your child. Explain to him that games are made to go on and on. That he’ll rarely complete a game by the time the timer goes off. Tell him the ‘save game’ function saves his place and his points. Let him know ahead of time that it’s okay to turn the game off without a fuss since everything is saved and waiting for him tomorrow.

6. Declare “Non-electronic Days”

Don’t like the idea of games being played everyday? Insist on “electronic days” and “non-electronic days.” You can also teach time management by allowing older kids to manage their own game time. For instance, give them the total amount of time they can play this weekend and let them decide how to use it. If they fail, they lose the opportunity to manage themselves next week.

7. Have Them Earn Game Time

Trade chores for extra video time. This teaches kids that you earn your fun in life by working.

8. Figure Out Your Child’s “Aggression Point”

Apply the 5/25 Test to find out where your child’s aggression point is. Let him play a video for 5 minutes. Then he has to go outside (or do something else) to play for 25 minutes. Each time he does his other activity for 25 minutes, increase the amount of video time he gets by 5 minutes, keeping the other activity to 25 minutes for each set. Do this until your child’s behavior turns aggressive or frustrated. That’s his saturation point. Deduct 5 minutes from the saturation point time and you’ve got his time limit. Redo the test to adjust the time when you think he’s ready.

Do you have any gaming tips for moms and dads trying to get their kid away from the TV screen?

9 Responses to “8 Ways to Make Video Games Palatable”

  1. Jennifer

    First of all i love that picture! sometimes I wish mine were both the same sex so they might later in life at this age bnd in that way, we'll see… My son uses the leap frog explorer right now and we try to limit to the educational games, he likes our wii but we tend to use it most when he is not around so we don't teach him playing video games during hours we could normally be doing family thing together is ok.

  2. Peter Schott

    We actually don't have these problems, but that's because we're likely too busy. Meetings, sports, activities, church, and just general things that need to be done around the house leave just a little time for video games. If anything, we often need to encourage our kid to play more than anything else. We do sometimes work on coding together, something she's enjoyed so far, but we need consistent time to get it right and that's next to impossible to find. 🙁

  3. darlene bohannon

    yes i agree kids have to start young,but they do need guidence on how much time is spent playing games or on the computer.we have 2 days a week ,that no gaming or pc is used,we go to the park or ride bikes,even go sledding.ther are lots of activities ,we can get our kids involved in.this does help with the frustrations of dealing with them.

    • Peter Schott

      Totally agree with the time limits – some sort of time bank or a regular timer that says it's now time for an active activity. (We'd never get our kid to stop reading books so that's not an option.) Of course, getting outdoors time isn't normally a problem except for this past summer. Over 100 every day for 60+ days – pools felt like baths and it was generally miserable.
      We allowed games like "Just Dance Kids" for some action, mixed in with more sedate games. That does work pretty well for activity. Those kids work up a pretty good sweat bopping to the songs.

  4. Miranda

    Thank you for the tips! We use some of these already, but there were some suggestions here that I hadn't thought about, like measuring the “Aggression Point.”

  5. sharon silver

    You are all welcome! This can create so many power struggles that I wanted to address it.
    Check the next article, about Back Talk!
    Have a good week everyone.

  6. Donna F.

    I agree with the point of wanting kids to go play outside, read books, use their imaginations. Sometimes (not always though), video games and television are used as easy ways out. My 5-yr old niece watches way too many cartoons and dvds, and she plays quite a few computer games too. I think there are good learning tools through computers, but the time needs to be limited and balanced out with more active endeavors. The Just Dance Kids game is a great idea to get them moving while they play.

  7. Charity S

    I try to be really diligent about video game ratings. However, my son is constantly bombarded with advertisements for the violent, horror, or adult simulated games. Of course, I would never buy any of those games, but I'm sick of seeing them everywhere.


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