Managing video game time during the summer

kids playing a video gameIt’s the very beginning of summer vacation for my children – now 15, 12 and 8 – and that means that the favorite Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox can be pulled out of the closet and hooked up to our TV system for fun and games. Yup, during the school year they’re completely off limits and sit untouched for months and months. Used to be a big deal but being firm about the issue means the kids just know that’s the way it is, and they never complain about it. Amazingly, truth be told.

That’s one advantage to us being in a small local community of like-minded parents, though those with older boys in the house (16, 17, etc) seem to have a harder time with the zero video games during the school year idea, whereas for those of us with younger boys (G-‘s 12, and the only boy amongst my kids) it’s just the way it is, and since I’d never allow televisions in the children’s bedrooms (what a terrible idea, in my opinion!) there’s really no way for them to sneak the big-screen games in except at friend’s houses.

Anyway, it’s summer and one thing I’ve learned about parenting is that it’s a ton easier to come up with agreements in advance rather than argue on a daily basis about whether they can play, how long they can play, etc. This year my son and I have already discussed the situation and from his initial idea of two hours/daily of video games, I brought the discussion down to reality and told him that the deal will be 60-minutes of play per child per week.

That’s it. One hour/week for each child.

Now they’re smart and realize that if they like to play the same multiplayer game, then they can effectively have two hours by coordinating their time. Further, I have a special rule that if we all play a game together, like Wii Sports Resort, then it doesn’t count against any of their time. At that point it’s more social anyway and I’m good with it. Oh, and if they visit friends, as long as the friends agree to video games then outdoor sports, I’m good with them playing at those houses too.

Of course, I have zero control over what happens when they’re with their Mom for the 3 days/week that they’ll be there this summer, but to be honest, I’d much rather stay out of that loop anyway, and let that transpire as it will. Best to let sleeping dogs, um, errr, nevermind. 🙂

Anyway this is the first year that other devices rear their little heads too: A-, now 15, just got an iPhone, and G- has an iPod Touch. Both of those are nice little gaming systems that can be easily hidden and discretely played when you think they’re reading or in the bathroom. So we’re going to have to wrestle with that, but our initial discussion has produced a tentative agreement of 45min/day of handheld gaming time, not including days when they use their video game time.

To me, that still feels like a lot. When I was a kid, we were out and about all summer, biking, having adventures, reading, playing baseball, basketball, pool, swimming, bugging our parents, doing science experiments (I could tell you stories about when my buddy Ivan and I hacked car CB radios to work in our rooms so we could chat at night, even though we were about a mile apart, but that’s another posting). Not inside playing video games, not doing things that were solo. Yeah, then again, if there were really cool video games available, we’d have probably been playing them. So I’m not a complete luddite!

I’m curious, though: How do you handle summer video game time, if at all? Is there a quota? Do you set a timer? Do they earn the time by doing chores? Or are you at work and just hoping that they don’t start up a meth lab or become a terrorist or throw a party for 500 of their closest Facebook pals? 🙂

7 comments on “Managing video game time during the summer

  1. Great topic. I think you’ve set some healthy boundaries. Love the question at the end. No meth labs here.

    I too remember the days of playing endlessly outside and having to be called in for dinner only to rush back out and postpone bedtime.

    We don’t let our son play video games during the week and every other weekend he is at his dads so that eliminates the opportunity to rot his brain by default. I like playing with him and we give him boundaries like: 1) no waking up early on Saturday to play. 2) 1 hour timer and such. For the summer we haven’t decided yet, but thank you for the reminder to head it off before there’s a hostile negotiation for the controller.

  2. Our summer rule is no tv (including video games) between 9 AM and 4 PM. We only allow video games on the weekend during the school year, and then only for a reasonable amount of time. (Reasonable does vary with the weather.) Usually by 4, they are engrossed in whatever they are doing and don’t come running in to turn on the TV, but there are those days where they are wiped out and are happy to flop on the couch for a quick break.

  3. Hello. Great blog post and an interesting topic.

    I’m 27. I don’t have any kids of my own yet, and probably won’t for a long time, but I know lots of friends who are much younger than me (a few that are 19) who already have a child or multiple children. :/

    I grew up playing videogames heavily and am now involved in writing about the videogame industry as a living, which grew out of my love of reading about the industry via videogame magazines and playing them all my life.

    I wanted to see if I could do some enlightening. Granted, I am sure that you are set in your ways and by now it has probably had a lot of positive effects, so you probably won’t be keen on changing it. But I thought I’d try my hand anyway.

    Do you realize how little time one hour of in-game play is in a videogame? That’s akin to me giving you a novel like The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, and telling you your limited to only reading 50 pages every week. Do you realize how long it’d take you to read it? And how frustrating it’d be to be left hanging, plotlines unresolved?

    I think what parents of my parents generation fail to realize is that videogames have plots, stories and progression. To get a sampling of what this limitation that you’ve imposed on your kids is like, I want you to limit your TV watching to one hour A WEEK. Doesn’t matter whether its the news or a TV show or a documentary, since the TV is the same as a console, and the whole console is limited to one hour a week.

    With all due respect, that is such an absurd time limit that I feel sorry for your kids. Anything a person wants to get engrossed in and master, requires a significant time commitment. If you want to master basketball, you must play basketball as much as possible, even for several hours a day. If you want to master running, you must run all the time, even hours every day. If you want to master playing Chess, Monopoly, Darts, Pool, Swimming or TCG or P&PG, limiting your time to one hour A WEEK insures that you will get absolutely no where and learn absolutely nothing regarding said discipline.

    Even some of the simplest, oldest games, such as Metroid for NES released in 1985, require more than an hour’s playtime to beat from start to finish. Only a master of that game can beat it in under an hour. But to do so you must have played it for much more than that in order to master it.

    Even in a fighting game, one hour a week basically ensures that your sons will not be able to memorize or learn even a single character and their moves. And god forbid if they ever play or challenge anyone else to the game, as they’ll get their butts handed to them.

    I want you to take a TV show, available on DVD or streaming via Netflix etc. and see how long it takes you to get through it by limiting yourself to 1 hour of watching a week. I’d reckon it will take you almost a year, at most several months, to get through even a single series. Like Gilmore Girls or Smallville or Friends. A typical season has 20 or so episodes in it, each of which are roughly an hour long. And those shows range between 7 and 10 seasons.

    I have a younger brother who always had a hard time reading and writing. He struggled with it greatly, whereas for me English and reading were my biggest strengths. My brother learned to read better and even to spell words correctly (he’d often mispell the simplest words, like “home”) by playing RPG videogames (Final Fantasy, Super Mario RPG, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Mario & Luigi, Mass Effect, Lost Odyssey, etc.), a typical RPG has a bigger script than say, the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy or the entire Harry Potter saga. So as you can imagine, you must do a TON of reading to get through the game, much less see all it has to offer.

    But he wanted to play it so bad, that he learned to read by playing it so much and would have me help him with words he didn’t understand. Eventually this also helped his vocabulary and his ability to spell words, especially since a mastery of the English language is required to get through even the most basic of RPGs, since they are very text heavy. Even in an RPG as simple as Pokemon. It was the draw of the creative universes and characters of these videogames, that brought him into reading, and not the draw of books or anything else, which did nothing to excite him. But videogames… that was a different matter entirely. He could play the games without reading of course, but by doing so he did not know what was going on or what decisions he was making. So one day he decided he wanted to know… and that required comprehension of the English language.

    What many parents fail to understand, is that videogames are teaching tomes. Even the most basic videogame is full of puzzle solving and a very high degree of comprehension in regards to what is happening on screen, and action/reaction. Pokemon is about as simple as RPGs come, and to even play it you must understand what element is innate to each Pokemon (Water, Fire, Grass, Rock, Bug, Steel, Ghost, Fighter, Normal, etc.) and how both its type AND the type of the move you perform, will effect the Pokemon you are battling against. Only with this understanding will a player be able to comprehend how to do enough damage to knock out the other Pokemon. A Flying Pokemon does more damage to a Bug Type, whereas a Water Pokemon is lethal to a Fire type. Not only that, but basic biology and anatomy of insects (which inspired the series, which is why “bug” is a type) are taught all throughout the game. Each and every Pokemon resembles an animal, and has a backstory as to how it functions as if it were a real animal.

    And Pokemon is a game that was created specifically with kids in mind. Now imagine a game that is created with adults in mind, as most videogames these days are. That does not mean they have to have mature subject matter, but it does mean that everything is coming from the comprehension level of an adult.

    There is a reason that the nerdiest (ie smartest) kids, are the kids that create and play videogames. It is because playing videogames makes you smarter, because you have to be smart to even finish the vast majority of them. Which is why a lot of kids turn to youtube or a site like gamefaqs, where they can simply look up the answer to a problem. In the old days especially, you had to figure it out on your own. When I started playing, there was no youtube.

    Even despite that, videogames are all about figuring out how to proceed. And many of them are puzzle heavy. Take a game like “Portal”, which is entirely physics based; playing that game will give you a much greater comprehension of how physics work. And will probably do MORE to excite your kid about physics than any textbook ever written. A great many videogames were specifically made to teach the audience about a certain subject, be it history, military weapons and vehicles, or a specific subject, videogames often invoke real-world ideas, concepts, or facts in their narrative, or are new interpretations of history or draw on history, science, etc. for inspiration or as a subject.

    Instead of limiting your kid’s videogame time, why don’t you make a new rule. They can play as long as they want, as long as you are there with them.

    I grew up playing videogames as much as I wanted, and I can assure you that it didn’t in the slightest limit my need and desire to build forts, play basketball, build obstacle courses outside, play hide-and-seek or “ditch ’em”, or come up with new and fun games like Foursquare (bouncing a ball between four squares, each with a kid in one square). Even beyond that, I would draw my own characters (inspired by videogame and cartoons, of course) and we would act them out and fight each other in the yard.

    Rather than restrict, videogames due what C.S. Lewis wrote about in books like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters in regards to fantasy worlds of the likes of Narnia and Lord of the Rings; he stated that fantasy worlds serve to open up the mind to the supernatural and to inspire wonder and awe in the mind, as they ponder on the creation they have just read about or witnessed. In other words, these creative worlds serve to inspire and excite the creativity and thinking process in ones own mind.

    I think the cutting off of media of any type by parents is a mistake, and serves to restrict the creative nature of a child.

    Instead of allowing them to embrace it, it is cutting them off to it. It is no coincidence that most videogame players are avid readers, and love equally the worlds of comics, anime, TV Shows, movies, manga, sci-fi and fantasy. These creative worlds put the imagination into overdrive, and offer deep experiences where one gets enraptured in the characters, worlds, environments and relationships that inhabit the world. Videogames are NO exception, adding interactivity and puzzle solving that requires much brain power, to the mix.

    In fact many of the gamers I know that are now in their 20s and have kids of their own, have cut cable TV completely out of their lives, as they see most of what is on TV as mind-numbing, wasteless drivel, and have replaced TV watching with videogames, which require much more thought and are more smartly crafted than what you’ll find on much of TV. So many of my friends do not even have cable of any kind. If they want to watch a show they’ll buy it on DVD or watch it on Netflix, and thus they are very picky about the media they consume, and the media they consume is deliberate. Unlike say my parents, who do nothing but sit in front of the TV and channel surf for hours and hours on end. Echoing exactly what my grandparents did in the latter stages of their lives. I’m happy my generation will, for the most part, be breaking this trend.

    Another experiment that I think would be worthwhile, is for you to try your hand at playing through a single-player campaign in a videogame. And see how much brainpower it takes to actually do so. I think parents are so ignorant of videogames that it borders on criminal. It would be like explaining the intricacies of why people consider The Godfather movies to be great and classic films, without ever having seen a “great film” or understanding how or why people enjoy great films. Pretending that videogames are toys or should be relegated to the backroom does a great diservice to the immense creativity of a medium that takes hundreds of people, hundreds of man hours, and huge teams of creative artists, writers, designers, programmers, engineers, musicians, voice actors, etc. to craft. The story and the universe of a videogame can be just as involved as that of Star Wars, Star Trek, Jurassic Park or any number of other great universes and stories crafted with love, care, sweat and tears, throughout history.

    The only difference with these universes compared to videogames, is that YOU get to play a part in the story that is being told. Instead of passive entertainment, videogames offer interactive entertainment where puzzles solving, comprehension of game mechanics, controls and UI (user-interface), and gameplay choices and their effects, all hinge on how the player plays the game.

    Many videogames, unlike virtually all movies and books, have multiple endings and multiple story tracks where decisions a player makes CHANGES the story track they are on, what characters they can now interact with, what areas are now accessible, and ultimately, how the story and its loose ends are tied together in the end. This story manipulation is not present in any other form of media, save for the odd “Choose Your Own Adventure” book or perhaps the DVD/Bluray menu of a film that allows you to access “cut” scenes, “alternate scenes” or occasionally, a cut, alternate ending.

    HARDLY on the same playing field.

    It is only a matter of time before videogames are treated the same way as movies and talked about on the local news in the same manner. I can’t wait for that time. The late-night show with Jimmy Fallon has videogame designers and producers on as guests, videogame directors with respect like Guillermo Del Toro, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron have in the past or are in the future creating their own videogames and/or videogame studios, and certain game designers have been elevated to a level that catches the medias attention., a videogame website similar to youtube where you can watch other people play videogames or watch videogame tournaments, just signed a major deal with one of the “big-three” networks (I think it was NBC) to start broadcasting videogame tournaments on regular TV, and big-time events like the SpikeTV Video Game Awards, PAX and E3 gain more and more attraction from the mainstream media every year.

    My point is, just because you consider videogames to be a source of absolutely no positive stimulation or worth, does not make it so. To deny your kids access to them on the grounds that they don’t need them, is like telling someone that they can play basketball but soccer is off limits. Because you didn’t grow up playing soccer and you think soccer is less worthy than bball.

    I should mention that almost every gamer I know plays sports on a semi-regular basis, one of which is currently on the tournament circuit here in Phoenix, Arizona with his friends, and just won one of them. Never have I seen videogames limit someone who loved sports. They continue to love sports, love travel, and love the outdoors, even if or after they play videogames. In fact, the Nintendo 3DS has a pedometer built into it. I take it on my walks so I can see how many steps I’ve taken and compare that to my previous days. It has encouraged me to walk more, by directly tying it to gameplay. You earn “Play Coins” for how many steps you take, that you can use to unlock stuff in videogames.

    Before I go, I want to mention progression. This is something that “parents just don’t understand”, because they have never done it. The closest thing to it would be to “make progress” in a TV show by watching more episodes, or reading more of a book that you are currently reading (I’m currently reading “Schindler’s List”, amazing book. Before that I was reading “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus”), but these examples are NOT the same.

    The reason is simple, you cannot unlock more content of a book. Or of a movie, or of a show. You can never get “stuck” in a movie, in a book, or in a TV Show, and have to figure out what to do to continue to progress. As such, a videogame stimulates the mind more, and in a completely different more direct nature, that will have you thinking about what you must do to figure out the puzzle or the area you are stuck at in order to proceed. This is NOT something that happens in any other media. Nor is one hour long enough to make much progress in virtually any videogame. Just as one hour of time spent reading a book, watching a TV show or a movie, is hardly enough time.

    Virtually all of my real-life friends play videogames, and virtually all of my childhood friends became so because we loved videogames and shared that in common. Because of the nature of progression in videogames (not to mention strategy and tactics), videogames encourage people to talk to others about them and to share their experiences, strategy and tactics, choices they made, and how THEY experienced said game. This is why videogames have grown to the heights they have (making more revenue than the movie industry, with Pokemon alone making more revenue for Nintendo than Star Wars & Star Trek properties in all their forms, toys, comics, novels included, combined), and part of the reason for that is because videogames are, quite simply, more engaging.

    You read a book once, watch a movie once, watch a show once and it is done. A videogame is meant to be played multiple times over, and each time you do so you’ll discover something new, or find something you didn’t know about, or even unlock something you couldn’t or didn’t unlock before.

    Videogames REWARD you.

    Books, movies, TV shows only reward is the satisfaction of enjoying what it is that you have just consumed. There are NO Achievements or Trophies unlocked for successfully accomplishing challenges in books, movies or TV Shows. Because there ARE no challenges associated with them.

    What’s more, you cannot share these accomplishments with your network of friends via Xbox Live, PSN, Steam or on Facebook, etc. On Xbox Live, unlock an Achievement, hit X and you can share it with all your friends on Facebook. Granted, I could type or tell my friends I read Schindler’s List and loved it, but there is no artwork to go along with that comment, nor will someone else hit me back with the next Achievement that HE unlocked and start discussing how I missed it or what I can do to unlock it and have a complete list like he has. He cannot view the list of challenges I have completed in Schindler’s List or say, the movie Home Alone. Because there a none. And as such, these forms of media are one-offs, and do not continue to engage you after you have finished them.

    Lastly, if your boys are artistic in any way, shape or form, I want you to go to a bookstore and check out a book on “The Art of —” videogame (enter a game name into the blank, or just go to the videogame section of Barnes & Noble or whatnot). Look at the art, and consider the craft. Now tell yourself why that art, which is only a small piece of a much more expansive world that can be PLAYED and manipulated by the person with the controller in their hands, has less worth or value than anything else.

    Ask yourself if that art that is so great it was put into book form, is not cool enough to inspire wonder and creativity in your kids, like it did with me when I was a child. I still have the over 1000 pages (that is not a typo) of drawings and characters I created starting in 2nd grade, and stretching until high school. In Freshmen year I wrote a 20-page nonfiction story that got an A+. All of this was inspired by the worlds I had experienced in videogames ranging from Resident Evil (one of my favorite games) and Super Metroid, to Super Mario 64 and Final Fantasy. Did I mention I read several books a month, and have done so since I was in 3rd grade?

    Try and think of videogames positively, instead of negativity. Did you know there is a new school that is entirely based on gaming, videogames included. I’m not talking about a college like Full Sail, I’m talking about a gradeschool that is ENTIRELY based on the creativity, engagement and education that comes from games of ALL types. They teach everything else kids need to know, but it is all based on creativity and not simply academics. I don’t remember the name of the school, but I saw a special on it on Fox News or CNN (my two favorite TV channels and arguably the only reason I still have cable). The woman who runs the school is an example of embracing this new technology for the BENEFITS they bring to children, instead of cutting them off from it. Using games and videogames to teach, educate, inspire and engage. Which is EXACTLY what they do. There is a reason why kids love videogames, and it is NOT because they are boring, dull, simple or unengaging.

    AT the very least, find a cooperative game that requires you and your kids to work together to solve the puzzles and progress towards the end of the game, and see if that changes your perception of the worthiness of videogames to teach, instil wonder, and open them up to critical thinking. You’ll find that they do all that, while also offering an amazingly fun time based on cooperation and teamwork, where they must coordinate and strategize together to succeed. Beyond that, buy a Zelda videogame yourself, and play through it with your kids. These games are chock-full of puzzles, and I bet you that within an hour’s playtime, you’ll be talking with your kids to see if THEY have the answers on how to proceed. I’ll be you that you’ll be surprised when they figure out a puzzle and how to solve it before you do, just like my kid brother would figure things out before I did.

    One of my life mottos is that “life is all about perspective.” A slight change in your perspective can change everything. You sir, lack perspective on a medium that your kids likely understand much more and on a much deeper level than you could ever fathom.

    If you don’t believe me, ask your kids to teach you how to play Pokemon, if they know how. If not, tell them to teach you how to play a fighting game they enjoy, or how to play a Super Mario game or whatever games your kids do enjoy themselves (Wii Sports is an exception, as its an easy game meant for parties). Absorb the information they tell you, and then pick the game up yourself and try to use that information to play it yourself. You’ll find it nearly impossible, and you will find that there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. Experience can only come from playing, only then will you understand, and that light will go off in your head.

    Good day and I look forward to hearing your response to my novel-like post. Take care.

    • I do think you have a point that parents should strive to understand where their children are coming from. Nevertheless being a parent is a role that you cannot remove yourself from once you’re there. Neither can you imagine such a role without actually taking it on first.

      With all due respect, a 27-year-old individual with no children doling out parenting advice comes very cheap. Many late 20s individuals with no children like to wax philosophical with high ideals when talking about parenting. However, as you stated, a slight change in your perspective can change everything – namely, bringing children, actual human beings that are half your DNA, into the world. Suddenly all that cheap advice given while childless falls to the ground, because what you think you will do as a parent and what you actually do once you have children are two different things.

      • I have three children and I do see his point. There are loads of studies, most recently one from Oxford, which states that 1 hour of video games a day make happier and more socially active kids.

        I don’t think it is CHEAP advice and find you really condescending.

  4. I need to make an important note, I found this post while researching a videogame article I am writing, and chose to read it and comment on it. However I did NOT explore the rest of the site or what you have written, I simply read this post and responded to it. As such I may have made some assumptions based on what I read that may be in some error, so just keep in mind I was only responding to what I had read here on this page.

    I like the site though, have it bookmarked. I find this type of subject on parenting very interesting. 🙂

  5. Hey that picture of the kids playing video games. I am the one with the hat. that was from sooo long ago when I was a kid

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