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When It Comes to Video Games, Kids Need Limits

Peabody Patch Moms Council offers Peabody mother some advice on how to curb the time her children spend playing Wii, XBox 360.

Ever since Coleco released the first Pong game way back in the late 1970s, parents have struggled to keep their kids from spending too much time playing video games.

The situation only got worse as Pong gave way to Atari and Ninetendo before things really shifted into high gear with XBox 360, Ninetendo Wii and other gaming systems.

Vicki, a Peabody mom of two, has run out of ideas to keep her kids from spending too much time playing those games and not living their lives. Here is her question:

"Dear Moms Council:
I have a teenage son, 13, and a 10-year-old girl and they are both hooked on video games. I feel like it is our fault because we bought them an X-Box 360 and Ninetendo Wii when they came along to make them happy and then we kept buying them whatever games they wanted. My husband and I tried to set limits so our kids wouldn't spend too much time playing their games, but it has become a real battle to get them interested in other things. Can you give me some advice on how we can can help our children get interested in other things so they don't play video games all the time?"

Some members of the Peabody Patch Moms Council offered her some advice.

Lori Ann Johnson is a mother of four and a freelance writer who regularly contributes to Peabody Patch. She also owns the Each Peach Cafe, a juice bar business in Danvers, that is currently being renovated.

Hi Vicki - Video game use is a dilemma for so many parents, including myself.  The answer is complex, so here are some bulleted points to try to make sense of the options:

1. The best prevention is to NEVER purchase a system - my kids were perfectly fine before I purchased one, and I am sorry I ever gave in.  That being said...you own a system as well...so

2. At times, I get very frustrated and uplug the system and put it out of sight and out of mind until I think enough time has passed to allow its use again. They are upset at first, but they get over it much quicker than I ever realized.

3. Timers are available everywhere and are inexpensive, fabulous little digital inventions that work wonders - kids hear a bell and they know to stop. Just like school. Yes, it actually works.

4. Having set times and days for screen time.  A lot of people do this for tv and pc use as well.  Video games only after dinner, only on weekends, etc. I personally do not do this as I often find if i use an item that i think is negative overall as a reward is not a smart philosophy. In other words, I agree with never using candy as a reward as children.  Reason being that they then associate sugar and non-nutrition treats with comfort and will look for that item (and can become addicted to it) when they are having a bad day...not a good habit as too many adults can attest to (think smoking, overeating and alcohol)

5. Take away the system for the summer. I do this EVERY year for a couple of months. To me it is more of an indoor in winter option so they don't drive me crazy when I'm trying to prepare dinner, etc. Most parents find that television and video games do occupy kids so parents can get things done...so I suppose they do have one good point if i had to find one. However, in summer there is ALWAYS something to do as the outdoors is one big adventurous playground - it is often hard to get them off the TV and out the door - but once they become immersed in outdoor activities its often hard to get them in to eat dinner.

6. I have found that kids that do not have vidoe systems at home sometimes become obsessed with systems at friends houses, so it is a lose-lose situation unless you give your child's friends parents clear instructions to not allow video use for your child.

Jay Lewis, a widowed father who is raising his six-year-old son, Josh, and his nine-year-old daughter, Amanda, works at the Lahey Clinic.

Vicki,

Though my children aren’t at this specific stage yet, we do have similar issues with the WII and DS.  I think you are on the right track by setting limits, but perhaps you might consider defining firm ground rules for those limits and perhaps even posting those rules on the refrigerator or a bulletin board.  I think that very often we, as parents, are our own worst enemies and by trying to be flexibility, understanding and avoid the inevitable pushback, we send the wrong message and actually encourage negative behavior.  If our children know that whining, tantruming and complaining about their time on these console games will not do any good and will actually provide a negative result, perhaps they may seek out those alternative activities, especially if that is one of your rules. I have no delusions that this approach will work immediately. You may need to dig your heels in for several weeks, but the upside is that now that the weather is getting better and outside activities may hold a whole new appeal.  I hope this recommendation helps. 

Bridget Lynch is a mother of four girls including six year old twins, a five year old and a three year old. She is a stay at home mom who is very involved in her children's pre-school and elementary school activities.

Dear Vicki:
Although my children are not old enough to be going through this stage yet, I do know of several families going through similar situations. I know that they are restricting video game use to the weekends only (or after all homework is done if there I'd time before bed).
Several friends have the portable games for their children (which I do not as of yet) and I know their goal is to limit the use of it to about an hour a day. Are there any after school programs your children might be interested in? I know the library has some great programs that are free and fantastic for children. I'm not sure if your children would feel that is too young for them.
If they really won't give up on the games, maybe you can make deals with them.  For example, if they do their chores they can accrue game time. Or they gain 15 minutes on the game for each 100 pages of a book they read.  Find a way to make it fun to earn the benefit of having the games.
I hope this helps. Again, I have not experienced this first hand yet. I'd like to think that this is how I would handle it if it were my kids though.
Good luck

 Moms Talk is a new feature on Peabody.Patch.com that is part of a new initiative on our Patch sites to reach out to moms and families.

Peabody.Patch.com invites you and your circle of friends to help build a community of support for mothers and their families right here in Peabody. Each week in Moms Talk, our Moms Council of experts and smart moms take your questions, give advice and share solutions. If you would like to ask the Moms Council a question, please use our comment box on our home page or e-mail: robert.cook@patch.com.

Brandon March 23, 2011 at 09:52 PM
There's a lot of helpful advice here from mothers who are "in the thick of it". I'm not a parent, so I can't offer specific advice for raising children. But there's a sentiment here I want to address, as an adult who grew up with, and still engages in video games. They're not all bad. Sure, they're useful for keeping kids out from underfoot so they "don't drive [you]crazy when I'm trying to prepare dinner, etc.," but they have something genuinely good to offer youth. Aside from the obvious positives, hand-eye coordination, language and arithmetic skills, etc., they also generate critical thinking, provide a sense of accomplishment sorely lacking in day-to-day interactions, and promote social interaction rather than squash it, as many believe. Video gaming is a part of our culture, as sure as television, movies, high art, playground games, and sports. It is a foil through which children can express themselves, communicate with each other through shared experience. Going to a friend's house to play games is one of my cherished childhood memories, and is an activity I do every week online to stay in touch with my far-away friends. I'm not disagreeing that children can play too much. excess of anything is detrimental, but it's not because video games are categorically bad. I urge parents with this problem to educate themselves about the games their kids play. Be part of this integral aspect of their lives. You'll both benefit from a deeper relationship.
Augusta March 24, 2011 at 02:04 AM
Brandon - fabulous addition to our sentiments. Especially "excess of anything is detrimental." This is a philosoohy true across the board for all ages - moderation is key. Thank you for your valuable, and certainly educated and experienced!, advice! I must admit - i had some fun with donkey kong and pac man as a kid! but the key difference was i grew up in the 80s so it was not yet a part of 'culture' per se. PC games were JUST beginning to gain popularity. My boys do both seem to have pretty fast reaction skills and hand-eye coordination ... i just wish they didnt get quite so sucked in....but again, moderation and balance is what we strive for....thank you for that reminder! Lori

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