The doctor told us we needed to limit the Taz’ screen time to help with some weighty issues we’re having.
“Really, he only needs 1-2 hours a day of TV, computer, or video games,” she noted, making sure to also include my iPhone, handheld devices, and anything else that was electronic and promoted staying seated.
I nodded in agreement, but my mind was swirling. As I racked up the amount of time the Taz could stay glued to his video games, I realized that it was sometimes more like 5 or 6 hours a good weekend day, sometimes even more. And that seems like a lot, but it really did wonders in keeping my house super clean without the Taz spreading the remnants of his room and everything he ate for lunch all over the living room floor and beyond. And the backyard has been virtually silent without him taking his nicest clothes and sitting in the dirt, scooting across the yard in what could only be described as an effort to give me more challenging laundry to do.
But obviously, 5 or 6 hours is a lot of game time for any kid. So the Taz and I talked in the car ride home and agreed we would start with limiting his game and computer time before even touching the TV time in an effort to promote more play time outside.
Of course, everything works so perfectly in theory, right?
The very first day with newly set limits, the Taz woke up early to play. And when it was time to get off, I let him know.
“I just have few more minutes till I’m done with this round, Mom. Can I finish it, and then get off?” he asked. And I agreed. Except multiply this conversation by about 10, and watch my answer vary each time – from compromise to threats to walking in the room and unplugging the dang machine and carrying it into my room.
“I was just getting off!” the Taz screamed from his room nearly 30 minutes after my first request to get off. And when I explained this to him, the conversation escalated to the borderline of me implementing the firehouse kid-giveaway rule because of some serious backtalk. And when I furthered the punishment to losing the games for an entire week, he promptly went outside where Mr. W was tending the yard and informed him that there was no point in living any longer because his video games were taken away.
Either my son is incredibly dramatic or he needs a 12-step program to get him off the tech-sauce. Or both.
At any rate, the week passed rather quickly. My son did end up surviving without video games, despite his insistence that it would be impossible. And in efforts to get the video games back quicker, he was as pleasant as pie – remembering his manners, asking to help with chores, and being the perfect child. He even took extra efforts to get off his duff and go outside, practicing his batting skills or spending the afternoon at a friend’s house. Of course, I was eating all this up. So there was no way I was going to stop it any time soon by giving back the video games early. But I had to give in when the week was up, as he had definitely held up his end of the bargain.
I think it was only 2 hours later when I had to take them away again.
Yesterday he got them back once more, and was adamant that he would not mess up this time.
“There’s no way I’m going to lose my video games, Mom,” he swore. And it was apparent he had learned his lesson. I was charging my phone at that point, getting ready to take my evening run. The Taz had already used up his video game time and was now chilling on the couch as he watched me get ready. “Are you going for a run?” he asked me. I nodded yes, that I was just waiting for my phone to get a few more battery bars so that I had some music to listen to. “How many does it have now?” he asked.
“Still only 30%, not enough yet,” I sighed as I waited.
“Oh, how long do you run for?” he asked.
“30 minutes,” I told him. I encouraged him to come with me on his bike, but he said he was done for the day. My phone was finally charged up enough to last for a 30 minute run, and I unplugged it.
“Is it ready now?” he asked.
“Yup,” I told him. He wished me well and I closed the door behind me. 30 minutes later, I walked in the door hot and sweating, earning my right to sit on the couch for the rest of the night.
“Mom, I’m sorry,” the Taz said immediately as I walked in the living room. “I played on the video games when you left, and it’s ok if you take them away for the week,” he told me with a very serious look on his face. I was shocked at his admission. But his brutal honesty became clearer when Mr. W filled me in later. Apparently he had been so interested in my run, how long it was and everything, so that he knew just how long he had to play video games without getting caught. The thing he didn’t factor in was that there was another adult in the house, and that Mr. W was very aware of the time he was allowed video games. And the Taz had been caught red-handed.
I don’t know. Perhaps I’m going about this all the wrong way. Maybe if I just let him keep the stupid video games forever he’ll be too distracted to try and get away with worse addictions – like drugs or alcohol. However, in his efforts to constantly try to win back the games, he’s really a sweet kid. And his game time average for the week is around 2 hours since I keep taking them away.
I think that means I win.
I can relate…as a kid, I was similar with reading, holing up in my room all day with a book (or books) if I had my way…my mom would occasionally throw her hands up in frustration, and then kick me out of the house to play outside for the afternoon…and I always found stuff to do.
I eventually, of course, learned more balance, especially once I decided to make an active effort to improve my physical as well as my mental.
How about a workout/food regimen that is geared towards game-time as a reward? IMHO, I believe taking something away from him that he loves isn’t going to help anything. He’ll be depressed, upset and more likely to have behavioral issues in other areas. Tell him every half hour workout = 2 hours of game time. A (truly) healthy meal = 1 hour of game time. Drop that on him and watch how fast he drops those pounds!! He’ll be motivated and the results will come a lot sooner.
We have a Lego addict in the house and I LOVE taking Legos away. It means that for a whole week, I can walk down the hallway without stepping on little tiny pieces of plastic. I have had to curb my Lego-removal-tendancies because he was catching on real quick that even the most minor infraction was sometimes resulting in having to box up his prized possessions. But with regards to the technology, when we were growing up, my brother and I had to pay for television or video game time…50 cents per half-hour. And I know I’m totally dating myself because back then, 50 cents was a lot of money for a kid, and video games were, literally, a brand new concept. But I really think my parents got this one right, because we learned the value of our time and more often than not, we chose to spend our money on other stuff….like candy…which might not help…but still. Either way, if we ever do (Heaven forbid), get a video game system, I will definitely be implementing this system.
As the PD’s resident video game blogger/columnist, I have a few reactions to your piece. While I’m not the epitome of a fit gamer, I wanted to offer the perspective of someone who’s played video games during childhood and a good chunk of my adult life.
It drives me absolutely crazy as a gamer when video games are made synonymous with laziness and inactivity, but TV is given a free pass. I find it interesting that your doctor made it a point to lump a bunch of sit-on-your-butt-type activities together but that you fixated on video games. Does your son also watch a bunch of TV? Maybe that’s part of the problem as well.
That said, it’s commendable you want your son to change his habits and to get more exercise. (As someone who has to keep on top of video games for “work,” I struggle with this balance myself.) What about trying to turn working out into a family activity? Bring him running with you each day with the understanding he can game for a set amount of time once you finish working out.
If you don’t want your son slowing you down on your run, or if you need your runs to get a little “me” time, does your son own an Xbox 360? Consider picking up a Kinect and one of that device’s excellent exercise games and playing it with your son. Some of the games, such as Ubisoft’s Your Shape, feature website integration that you and your son could use to keep tab on your workouts, calories burned, etc. If something like Your Shape isn’t “gamey” enough, you could also try Kinect Sports or Dance Central.
Lastly, there are several ways you can limit his time spent playing games without having to play the heavy constantly. If your son owns an Xbox 360, the console actually has a built-in timer that parents can set up. You can give him a cap for the day or week. Once he exceeds that cap, the machine will turn itself off. It also warns the player before the switch-off happens, so you don’t have to deal with the annoying cries of, “Just let me save my game!”
While the PlayStation 3 doesn’t offer a similar feature, the Wii will show you how much time your child spends playing each title. That’s also a useful way to see if your kids have been sneaking play time.
The link that I entered in the website field will actually take you to a blog post where I talk in more depth about parental controls for the current generation of gaming hardware. I recommend that parents everywhere spend the time it takes to familiarize themselves. With simple, easy-to-use tools available to parents, there are really no excuses for not having a handle on how much your kid plays.
I was wondering when someone was going to call me on the TV watching. Totally guilty as charged. However, he doesn’t have the same addiction to TV as he does to video games. If I tell him to turn off the TV in the middle of a show, he might complain a little, but he’ll do it. But it’s like pulling teeth with the video games. He has a Wii, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s active just because there’s games like bowling, etc. He has mastered the fine art of lounging and Wii-ing. I’d love to find out if there’s a timer for the Wii, though. While he’s struggling with the game time thing, he has expressed that he’d love to work with me on how to make the time thing work so that he doesn’t keep getting it taken away. Perhaps if the control is out of both of our hands, there will be less warring over the game system.
Got to admit, though, taking away the video games is a stellar punishment. Because he knows it’s the first thing I’ll take away, he tries to avoid that by toeing the line to the best of his ability (for the most part).
Granted, I’m not a parent and I’ve never had to step on them, but taking Legos away seems weird to me, like taking away a kid’s trumpet because he’s practicing too much and it gives you a headache. Legos are one of the most creative toys kids can play with, are they not?
My son goes through a different addiction; first it was legos, then it was video games, now it’s drawing and writing. The drawing and writing, doesn’t bother me so much, but at 6, he can spend hours doing these preferred activities.
It’s difficult, but I agree with str4y balance is the key. I don’t mind him indulging in his interests, but I try and encourage him to do other things. He’s 6, so it’s a lot easier for me.
But I do understand; those video games are very hard, they are addicting.
Simple- you “outfun” the video games, ie, distraction.
Find something more fun, which is better for him, physically speaking, than video games. Maybe he’d like to do martial arts or an after school sport. Of course, neither would kill all of the potential video game time, but you should be able to address a fair amount of it.
One of the best ways to quit smoking or drinking is to distract yourself and redirect your fixation. Replace the undesirable behavior with something that is desirable and after about 6 weeks, that undesirable behavior goes away. The tactic works for adults, children, and even pets.
My parents never bought me any video games, and limited my TV to 1 hour per day. It did me a service, and I think it will do your son a service too.
I have a nephew whose mom limited his computer time to 6 hours per week, including homework. At the time I thought this was extremely unfair. He was his class valedictorian, played every sport, had a full time job before he graduated high school, and went on to a prestigious university.
Your comment about avoiding worse addictions really bothers me and I completely disagree.
Limiting time on sedentary devices is not a bad thing at all!
I like James’ idea.
Anon, for what it’s worth I grew up with very few limits on TV/game time, graduated fairly high in my class, had a job at 14 and went to a good university. I didn’t “play every sport” because I didn’t really hit it off with most of the jock kids, but I was in nerdy stuff like debate and mock trial while staying in good physical shape. Rather than impose arbitrary limits, my parents trusted me to prioritize academics over leisure-time activities like video games and, for the most part, I didn’t disappoint.
Obviously, some kids have a problem prioritizing the “right” activities, but if my wife and I have kids, I hope I can work with them at finding a good balance without having to have them grow up with limits.
I don’t know if it warranted a response or not, but since I was the one who wrote about Legos (somewhat sarcastically because obviously I don’t enjoy having to give my child negative consequences), I’m going to clarify, because I’m sure there must be at least one parent out there who can relate (which might be you, someday Mr. Gamewit). My son is in the in-between age where time-outs aren’t appropriate, and he doesn’t have any real freedoms to warrant “grounding,” so we eliminate priviledges. Since we don’t watch television and we don’t play video games, his very expensive Lego habit is the first thing on his negative consequence list. (ie: you have a negative behavior, you get a negative consequence). Hopefully that clears things up. I love how creative he is with his Legos and I’d much rather he read his books and play his Legos than play video games right now. (Notice I say “right now” because I have no illusions that I will keep them at bay forever).