How To Prevent Screen Time From Turning Into Scream Time


screen timeWe’ve all had this moment. It’s dinner time, and you call your child. You faintly hear a call back for “five more minutes.” It suddenly dawns on you that your child has been sucked into the vacuum of gaming for, well, you have no idea how long it’s been. A wave of parental guilt and shame floods you, and as that wave recedes, you are left upset with yourself and your child.

How can so much time slip by without anyone realizing it? And, how do you end the daily struggle as you try to pull your child out of the riptide of gaming? 

It’s been documented that the rush that kids get from their games, their cells, and text message alerts release the same addictive dopamine levels in the brain as hardcore drugs. Each time you, or your child, hears a tone that you have a text or a “like” on Facebook, it’s as stimulating as having a casino in your home, which constantly dings your winnings.

Simply stated, we are all at risk for getting too wrapped up in our electronics. 

As parents, we are constantly trying to find the “rules of the game,” and setting up expectations and limits for our kids when it comes to their game-time seems to be our obsession. The first question to ask is how much is too much? The answer may be different for all of us since it’s a subjective question. One family may have a higher tolerance for device-time than others. That being said, I believe there are some important, steadfast guidelines. Once those are in place, there is room to find your own comfort zones and try to get to the bottom of what is going on with our children and their gaming. 

Make Some Clear Rules

A good rule of thumb is to not allow any electronics for at least one hour before bedtime. The blue light, the pumped-up music, and the excitement only arouse your brain, the opposite effect you want before settling in for the night. Another clear cut rule would be to not allow any electronics until after homework is completed. One rule I’ve established as well is no screen time at the table.

Be Consistent

Whether your family rule is to only allow gaming on weekends or for a clearly stated time, such as one or two hours each day, stick to your rules. If you find yourself distracted by a great conversation with a friend, keep your eye on the time. Sometimes without realizing it, we stretch our rules for our own convenience. When we as parents are inconsistent, let’s say by letting our kids use gaming when it benefits us, or as a “simulated babysitter,” our children learn to find loopholes. 

Be Curious About Their Gaming: (What Gaming Can Tell Us)

It’s understandable that after getting the hottest, newest game on the market, your child will initially be engrossed in it. However, if you find your child using games in a way that makes you concerned and uncomfortable, find out what is going on with them. By asking questions, you may be able to open a door into the private life of your child. So, next time your kid is absorbed and zombie-eyed down in the basement, sit on the couch next to him or her. Pay attention to what your child is seeing and doing. Ask questions about your child’s avatar. What does his character do that makes him so special? How is her moniker different from her persona outside the digital world? It may be easier for your child to talk about him or herself in this indirect way.

Ask your child if there are any characters in the game he or she really likes. Perhaps your child is using excessive gaming as a way to identify with the characters in the game. Maybe the tough guy with lots of power in the game is appealing because your child may feel overwhelmed and ineffective in some areas of his or her life. Or, maybe your child feels intimidated by others, and playing with and identifying with the hyper-confident, hard as nails cast in the game gives him or her the ease to operate with others in the way he or she can’t outside the digital realm. Perhaps navigating easily through a game allows a certain amount of control that seems socially hard to obtain in school cliques. Or, it’s possible that escaping into a world of video games seems less complicated than what may be troubling him or her at home. 

Addressing the Issues

Once you really get to know what the game means for your child, you may be better equipped to handle issues that your child uses their games to tackle. Together, you two are in a better spot to address social issues directly. Or, if dealing with unstructured time is the draw to gaming, together, you can develop other hobbies and interests outside the game. You and your child can discuss an alternative game-plan to relax and unwind after school and possibly speak head-on about what might be troubling him or her at home or with friends to develop effective strategies to cope.

The bonus points for you will be getting to know the inner world of your child.