By Aprel Phelps-Downey
Video games quietly took up residence in my home over the summer. It started out innocently enough when my teenage daughter asked if she could download the application on her phone to play with a friend. At first, I didn’t worry about the time she was spending on the game because it was new and I figured the novelty would wear off. When two months passed and she was still fixated on the game, I realized something more serious was developing.
The Impact Video Games Have on Our Children
Video games progress at a fast pace with movement coming from all directions. Players are drawn into the game during quick action sequences, which also makes it difficult for a child to pay attention without feeling overwhelmed. That fast-paced action triggers feelings of anxiety as a child panics to keep up with other players and advance in the game at the same time. My daughter didn’t know when to walk away and would become anxious when the time came to shut down the game for the day. At that moment, I made the decision to step in before things intensified.
How to Tell Your Child Needs a Game Intervention
Start by taking note of how long she spends with her nose buried in an electronic device. My daughter would appear from her room with her phone in hand as she made her way to the kitchen for a snack, in the car for a trip to the store or to join us for “family time” in the living room. I started to notice that the game on her phone screen was taking the place of other forms of entertainment that she used to enjoy, such as drawing. This quickly became a cause for concern.
The problem slowly progressed from there, and I began to wonder how long should a child play video games a day. The time my daughter spent on the game seemed to be impacting her overall behavior. She became defensive when asked to put the phone down in favor of face-to-face time with her family. She slacked on her responsibilities around the house, such as caring for her birds and emptying the dishwasher. Then her sleeping pattern became disrupted, which opened a new set of problems in our home.
As our children grow, sleep becomes one of the most essential ingredients in their health and wellbeing. Failure to get adequate sleep leads to problems with attention, behavior and physical health. Where I slow down when I am tired, my daughter was speeding up as if in fast-forward motion. Attempts to guide her through a new bedtime routine that didn’t include playing video games failed miserably. By trying to help her unwind at night without that game, I was causing a disruption to her routine. That change in routine along with her inability to let go of the fast-paced action of the game, even when she was not playing it, made her anxiety issues worse. I knew it was time to start implementing screen management time during the day.
How to Manage Screen Time
My daughter failed to see that the amount of time she was spending playing the video game was doing her a disservice. Her team in the game consisted of friends she knew in real life so, to her, the gaming experience was like spending time with friends. I knew then that it would be a real challenge trying to manage her screen time. To move forward, patience and understanding would become my best line of defense.
Screen time management starts with establishing a time boundary on your child’s gaming experience. My daughter initially fought screen time restrictions, and your child will do the same. Stand firm and know that the controlled screen time rule works to improve other areas of your child’s life. She will start going to bed at a decent time and getting a restful night of sleep. My daughter's behavior improved, and she became more pleasant to be around, without having a phone attached to her hand.
I also found it beneficial to show my daughter just how much time she was spending playing the video game. Seeing the time charted on paper came as a shock to her, which prompted her to voluntarily cut back on her screen time without being asked. I took the screen time management one step further and declared Sundays to be a “tech-free” day in our home. As a result, our family started enjoying time watching a movie, playing a board game or just spending time together. Seeing our family work to reduce our screen time helped my daughter even more.
The important thing to remember when wondering how to get your child to stop playing video games is that it doesn’t happen overnight. Give your child the tools to help her understand that true joy in life comes from interacting with friends and family and not from a video game controller.
Aprel Phelps-Downey is a brand storyteller, author, and writer, specializing in small business marketing services. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from the University of South Florida. She resides in Eastern Tennessee with her husband and daughter.