Tag Video Games

Limiting Access to Technology in the Home

baby at computerAs summer approaches, and kids have much more free time, many parents have questions about whether they should limit their kids’ access to technology. This entry considers some of the salient issues.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents limit their kids’ sedentary electronic pleasuring to two hours a day. I believe this guideline is well reasoned for at least five reasons:

• Using more of this technology can reduce the odds that a kid will sweat and breathe hard for 60 minutes a day, which is another broadly promulgated guideline.

• Using more of this technology can reduce the odds that kids will advance their face-to-face people skills.

• As is the case with just about too much of anything, too much usage of technology can worsen pre-existing vulnerabilities (e.g., mood disturbance, anxiety disorders).

• Being plugged in too much can reduce the likelihood that a kid will develop his or her top strengths (the topic of next week’s blog entry)attractive college student sitting

• High school students who aspire to be competitive for admission to high quality academic institutions do well to use the summer to work at internships, to do community service or to engage in activities that will put them into the running for these more difficult to get into schools. Obviously, being plugged in too much at home reduces effectiveness along these lines.

There are a few related questions that come up from parents:

I can’t control what my kid does when I’m not home. How can I enforce such limits?

First of all, a scheduled kid is a kid who isn’t as much in a position to defy such rules. But, if you need to resort to it, there are plenty of tools available to assist. For example, you can purchase devices that lock onto the ends of plugs or which turn electronics off after a pre-programmed amount of time (e.g., see www.familysafemedia.org).

How important are rating guidelines?

child playing with laptopI believe these guidelines are very important to follow, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise. Of course, your progeny will likely lament that hordes of his or her peers use this or that game, watch this or that movie, or otherwise consume material that violates such age/ratings guidelines. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that while not all parents who hear such complaints are effective, just about all effective parents hear such complaints.

My kid is way more tech savvy than me. How can I hope to establish and enforce parental controls and guidelines?

If you Google “parent controls” together with whatever device you’re dealing with you will likely find help (making sure to have the right model/software version). Otherwise, offer a 20-something person an Amazon gift card if s/he can check your controls for you; tell him or her that you’ll double the value if s/he is able to get around your controls, show you how s/he did it and offer countermeasures. I don’t find that this needs to take much time.

Should I be checking my kids’ emails, texts and pictures?

First of all, it’s your kids’ job to promote his or her independence and to become R1very upset when you check such things. But, there is evidence that when s/he believes that you might check his or her technology, at any time, that the resulting apprehension can increase the odds that s/he won’t go over to the dark side.

The best suggestion I have is to try to stay in the middle ground, which is a moving target. Too far to the right and you’ll be too monitoring and restrictive: signs of that are that you’re acting like a warden, your kid is acting like an inmate and s/he is becoming socially isolated. Too far to the left and your kid is either stepping on land mines or showing sings that s/he is at significant risk for such. Regardless of where you land on that continuum, some degree of checking and monitoring is usually advisable; the degree of this can be determined by your kid’s age, manifested success/failure and vulnerabilities (e.g., a kid struggling with ADHD may need more monitoring). (For more elaborate guidelines and a fuller vetting of the issues please see chapters 3 and 5 in my parenting book.)

What should I do if my plan seems to be not working?

funny-password-signThis one is easy. Seek out expert assistance! For a referral, click here.

Good luck my fellow parent-lunatic!




Video Games: Good or Evil?

There are many statements floating around out there about video games that suggest they should be either vilified or, less commonly, celebrated. “Video games are purported to…

…wreck your kid’s ability to pay attention.”

…make your kid violent.”

…take care of  your kids needs for physical activity, at least if he or she uses systems like Wii or Xbox Connect.”

“…promote addictive behaviors.”

“….offer a solution to social anxiety.”

In this column I’d like to make eight suggestions about video games that will respond to these and other concerns.

#1 Limit your kids total access to sedentary electronic pleasures to two hours a day. This is the sound counsel of authoritative bodies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. If your kid is spending more time than this he or she is likely missing out on other important activities such as physical activity, doing homework and socializing face-to-face. Actually, if you are mostly hitting your stride as a family you may find that your kids don’t have more than two hours a day free anyway.

#2 Take the ratings seriously but also realize that they can, for any given game, not be a fit for your child. (I find some parents are surprised by just how graphic and adult-themed video games marketed for kids and teens can be.). If my kid is exposed to material that he or she is not developmentally ready for, symptoms can emerge (e.g., becoming aggressive, having a difficult time sleeping).  There are also parent advisory websites you can review content in the games. Click here for one such example.

#3 Watching your kid playing acceptable video games, and commenting on his or her skill as well as how much you enjoy spending time together, can be a useful way to spend special time. (Readers of this blog, and my parenting book, know about my recommendation to spend one hour a week, with each kid, one-on-one, doing special time.)

#4 If you’ve been reading this blog and/or my book, you know that another activity commonly recommended by authoritative bodies is for each child to sweat and breathe hard for 60 minutes a day. Video game playing activity counts towards this only if your child is actually sweating and breathing hard. If he or she can’t carry on a normal conversation and sweat is changing the color of his or her shirt, you’re good. Otherwise, it doesn’t count.

#5 Many gaming systems, and their attached games, provide online access. Imagine the following scenario. You sign your kid up for a martial arts class at your local Y, a class which encourages participants to interact and get to know each other. In the class are other kids like your kid. But there is also a 44 year old divorced man who is sexually frustrated and medicating his pain with alcohol, a 25 year-old man who is struggling to control his urges to sexually assault children and a woman who medicates her severe anxiety by chain smoking marijuana. How okay would that be? Point made? For an article on some specific suggestions to promote monitoring of your child’s or teen’s online life, click here.

#6 Keep an eye on how your kids’ video gaming impacts him or her. You are the world’s leading expert on your kid. Use that expertise to gauge how a given video game is affecting him or her, if at all. For instance, I once knew a kid in elementary school who started playing a couple hours of an E rated game each week. At the same time he started becoming aggressive at recess. His parents made the connection and took steps to resolve the situation (a straight-forward banning of the game wasn’t indicated. I describe this case in my parenting book in the chapter on monitoring).

#7 Many parents ask, “should I let my kid have a video game system in his or her bedroom?” Until I see a well-controlled research study that investigates this with a sample that is large enough to allow for broad generalizations, it’s hard for me to feel strongly either way. But, my intuition, is that if you follow all the other guidelines in this blog entry, and your kid is generally doing well in life, it’s probably okay. But, I wouldn’t hook up access to television programing as there are too many ways that could be problematic (e.g., becoming too withdrawn from family life, putting it on when he or she should be sleeping). Also, keep in mind that if having a video game system in the room proves to be problematic, it doesn’t take an act of congress to undue it 😉

#8 What are the signs that the video gaming is becoming, or has become, problematic? The easiest sign is that your child is acting like he is crack dependent and the game playing is the crack. If this is the case, see this blog entry that breaks down how to deal with this kind of scenario. Otherwise, the gaming is problematic if it is interfering with any other important developmental tasks or if it is associated with symptoms. If in doubt, I’d recommend seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional. For a referral click here.

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