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7 Ways to Wean your Child off Video Games

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Video games have taken the place of playing outside for many kids today. As parents, should we intervene?

By Greg Seaman, Eartheasy Posted Feb 8, 2011

Child playing video games The appeal of today’s ubiquitous video games is based on sound value – the games are fun, the action is fast, the challenges are inviting. Yet when kids and teens spend time in front of small screens – whether it’s the TV, computer or hand-held games – it takes away from the time they could spend playing sport, learning other skills or enjoying active play.

When children constantly receive their entertainment through computer games, they develop an increasing desire for instant entertainment which decreases their attention span and hurts their listening skills. And while studies link excessive gaming with conditions like depression, anxiety and social phobia, simple common sense dictates that too much time spent playing online games is counter-productive to a child’s healthy growth and development.

The goal of a frustrated parent should not be to remove the child’s access to these activities, but to help the child find balance between time spent using these devices and time spent in independent activity, outdoor experiences in nature, and plenty of physical activity which a growing body craves.

What not to do

It is surprising that many articles which discuss strategies to reduce video-gaming time suggest “tiger-mom” measures such as removing the computer from the child’s room, installing access-limiting software, or simply pulling the plug on the computer. These methods, in my opinion, are confrontational, and send a message that the child lacks self-control. Pulling the plug will only drive your child elsewhere, perhaps to a friend’s house where controls are less strict.

Cooperation and respect should be the tools of first choice. I think the best way to wean kids of video-game dependence is to have the children themselves see the consequences of too much time online and make the decision for themselves to bring more balance into their lives.

Here are some suggestions which my wife and I have tried to help reduce the amount of time our children spent playing video games.

1. Play a video game with your child.

Let your child teach you one of their favorite video games and give it a try. You may find the game instructive, challenging, or deplorable. In any case, you’re showing your child that you are open-minded and willing to try something new. After all, this is what you’re asking of your child in having them reduce time spent on video games. There’s a better chance your child will listen to your suggestions when you’ve shown a willingness to understand the appeal of these games.

2. For one week, keep a log of the time spent playing video games.

Ask your child to keep a record of time spent on gaming. (Or keep a record yourself.) At the end of one week, show them a visual representation of how much of their free time is going to this activity. Is it 10% of their time, or 50%? It’s likely that your child hasn’t considered this, and may be surprised at the results. Once you have some actual data, any argument over the amount of time spent on gaming is eliminated, and you can see if there is a problem, and to what degree.

3. Show them what that amount of time represents in other activities.

With some thought, you can develop a list of activities and opportunities that can be achieved in the same amount of time spent gaming. For example, in 1/4 that time you could learn to play a musical instrument. In 1/2 that time you could improve in a sport, learn how to fish, how to sew, grow a garden…. As a parent, you should be prepared to contribute to the new instrument, help the child get started in an activity program, or help buy supplies or equipment. The goal of this exercise is to show the child what activities he or she may be missing.

4. Arrange active indoor or outdoor activities for your children and their friends.

Help do the thinking and planning for alternative activities for your children. (They may be out of practice.) To make it more appealing, look for ways to include your children’s friends. Check the newspapers, your local community center, or school guidance counselors for local programs and resources for youth sports and activity programs. For example, your community may offer a boating club, sports programs, hikes, mountain bike trails, adventure trips, or other fun outdoor activities.

Offline activities do not always need to be extravagant or expensive. During high school, our son had regular Friday night poker parties with his friends. We enjoyed hearing them laughing and chatting in the back room, and kept them supplied with chips and drinks to help make it fun. Besides the obvious fun of the poker game, these young people were refining their communication and social skills, and planning other activities they could enjoy together.

5. Start a long-term project of your child’s choosing.

Your child may have an interest or goal that seems out of reach. If you can tap into something your child is passionate about, you may be able to help them realize their passion. Most children don’t think of long-term projects, but you can show them how planning and budgeting their time and money can bring big rewards.

When my son was 14 years old, he showed an interest in sailing. We gave him a pile of Wooden Boat magazines and asked him to choose a small design which we could build together. He chose a 14-foot daysailer, and we spent Saturdays during the school year doing the project. Over time, his friends began hanging out with us. They also found the project interesting, and enjoyed seeing something develop from a sheet of plans to an actual sailboat. And when the project was done, there was a new activity to enjoy.

Your child might want to build a surfboard, restore an old car (and learn a lot in the process), sew a dress, build a guitar, make a treehouse, create a garden, make a mountain bike course, or take on some other big challenge. Of course, as a parent your participation is required to help finance the project and help see it to completion. But a long term project with your child is rewarding to the parent as well!

6. Acknowledge your child’s efforts in offline pursuits.

One of the appealing aspects of video games is that anyone can play and receive instant gratification. Other skills, such as playing music, require time, effort and self-discipline before they become truly enjoyable. You can help your children find satisfaction in offline pursuits by acknowledging their efforts and progress along the way.

Research performed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has found that the way parents offer approval affects the way children perform and the way they feel about themselves. Dweck has conducted studies in which adolescent subjects were given a set of difficult problems from an IQ test. Afterward, some of the young people were praised for their ability: ”You must be smart at this.” Others were praised for their efforts: “You must have worked very hard.” The kids who were complimented on their intelligence were much more likely to turn down the opportunity to do a challenging new task that they could learn from. They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their deficiencies and call into question their talent. Ninety percent of the kids who were praised for their hard work, however, were eager to take on the demanding new exercise.

7. Have family meals together.

Playing video games is often a solitary activity. Even when my son had friends over, they would often sit beside each other at their own laptops, playing in parallel but not together.

Eating dinner together as a family provides a valuable opportunity for communication. A scheduled meal together helps lift children from the isolated bubble of their game consoles and engage the other members of the family in the exchange of ideas. Family dinners should be a place for open discussion, where the children can discuss their gaming accomplishments, should they choose, and where they can also hear the interests of all family members, which helps put time spent gaming in perspective. Dinnertime is also an opportunity for family members to discuss a variety of interests outside of the video-game arena and plan upcoming activities.

A “Family Dinner Experiment” conducted by Oprah Winfrey in 1993 challenged five families to eat dinner together every night for a month for at least a half an hour. At first the families found it difficult but by the end of the study they wanted to continue eating dinner together. The biggest surprise for the parents was “how much their children treasured the dependable time with their parents at the table.”

Encouraging your child to spend less time playing video games requires more hands-on time from the parents. This is not always easy, given the busy schedules of parents today. But the rewards are rich as we see our children grow, and as we spend more time with them.

Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children’s Motivation and Performance” by Claudia M. Mueller, Ph.D. & Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 75, No. 1.

Posted in Connect with Nature Tags , , ,
  • Tara

    What contributes to kids spending so much time online is being a single-parent. The computer is like a baby sitter. It keeps my child safe at home, and happily occupied. Your suggestions are good but many of us have almost no extra time to spend with our kids.

    • Greg Seaman

      Yes. I understand. Perhaps you can find ways for your children to help you find more time. There are simple recipes that can enable them to cook dinner once in a while, for example. Assign them chores to reduce your workload. Children can rise to the occasion when they know you need their help.

  • akbar

    exactly once, we should be able to keep our children are not addicted to the game. because it would harm the child.

    nice article, thanks…

  • Set up the right expectations and discuss a fair time limit with your kids. Then everyone will be on the same page and there will be less disappointment.

  • momoftwo

    I agree with each of your suggestions! As a mom of preteens, I want them to have their own challenges and successes, not ones that are fabricated by some game developer. We as parents have to help set our children up for success, and once they have some of their own accomplishments, they are more eager and confident to try other new challenges.

    • Greg Seaman

      well said!

  • Dustin

    I have to admit I used to spend quite a bit of time on video games, well mainly computer games. I personally wish I was pushed more to get out and spend more time outside.

  • Corrosion Monitoring

    I have XBOX in my house, and because of that, my son has addicted to that console game,,
    This post maybe can help me


  • nikos

    i like your tips,very helpful,but its difficult to keep away the children from these games.i think these children need doctor and every day check their way their acting in school,family,friends.Technology is like honey!!very sweet,but parents must be carefull for their childrens health.

  • Yoshi

    Yeah I like the idea of parents joining in. I remember back in early 80s when my father sat down and tried to play famicom with us. At first I was, yeah cool, okay. Then it was more like I'm going to go outside and ride my bike – you play as much as you like.

  • 1. Play a video game with your child… what happens if the parents get hooked? 😉

    Joking aside, there are some great tips here including the above. Kids more often than not want to share what they do with parents and especially those in the early teens and younger. I have 2 girls and they play the Nintendo DS (they share one) only at weekends and a bit more during the holidays. Its about finding the right balance between computer games and other activities.

  • Orthotics Niagara

    It is all about habits and if you get them into the right ones while they are young…you will have less worries in the future..its an investment that pays off down the road

  • Suzanne @ Mind Tree

    Great post. It’s a big problem in today’s age. Children are more into video games instead of outdoor games.

  • Sarath

    The suggestions given in the article on how to save children from getting addicted to video games are worthy to be tried out by parents who really want their children engaged in other activities too in a balanced way. The article is quite good and helpful

  • Elias Sharma

    Wow! I’m really enjoying the theme of this website. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very difficult to get that balance between user friendliness and visual appearance. I must say you have done a very good job with this. Also, the blog loads super quick for me on Internet explorer. Outstanding site!

    • Greg Seaman

      Thanks Elias!

  • I wish someone had given this advice to my mother when I was a kid. She went against every tip given on the list and I fought her every step of the way because of it.

  • Nero

    #1thing todo is stop buying them kids consoles, i have no kids buy, i think that my experience is what helps u the most.
    so im tryn to help my wife with her 18 boy who does nothig but play online alll night, so im tryn some steps if they work i will come back and share..
    Thanks for the time!!!!!!!
    Great tips here!!!

  • Well if you have decent grades that shows you are putting effort where it counts.
    Video games are a way for people to relax, so time on the Xbox is not necessarily a waste of time. Like most things in life, it is a matter of balance. Get outside for some activities that balance time spent on the box. Your mom will see you’re making the effort.

    • daniel panhwar

      Well if you’re playing for 5-6 hours a day or even 3 is to much, take breaks read a book and go outside and do your shool work keep everything Balanced so your mom thinks that you are doing more then video games.

  • Breda Shannon

    My boy is hooked on minecraft which is a game where he mines underground for stuff.I gave him a spade and told him to go dig the garden!

    • Jenn Blatson

      Did that work? Mine is 8 and would play it all day if I let her. Help. Any ideas to get her off it?

      • Muzamil Abbasi

        mine too 😀

    • boriswart

      Eventually they go from minecraft to Dark Souls then they become really hard to reach. Or worse than that is a team sport game where they are committed to 45 – 60 minute team battles. It is almost impossible to get them to focus on anything but those games. When you shut off games they only talk about strange characters in those games and strategy. I can’t get any of them even slightly interested in anything else but those games! They almost are unable to listen to you unless the subject is games.

      • I’ve seen the same pattern with a young person I know.

      • boriswart

        My nineteen year old (out of High School) gets some access to the internet if he will schedule his week and I approve it but it is very hard work. And very slow progress that has setbacks very quickly the moment I do not stay right on top of it.

  • Great comments Makayla! Your experiences are at the heart of challenges many young parents are facing today. I think the younger generation feels an identification with technology that older folks do not, and we parents need to acknowledge the benefits available on the web. At the same time, it’s our responsibility to guide our children to a place of balance between outdoor play and indoor technology use. You are concerned about your child and pay attention to his activities, which is half the battle. I think you are well on your way to achieving a balance and teaching the value of outdoor activity to your child.

    • Makayla

      Ah, yes… I am actually part of that ‘millennial’ generation as of one study I read that labeled it as anyone born on or after 1982. I must say, I was young when computers came out, and my father dove into the field. He is currently a programmer and developer which is amazing… but I did grow up with computers in the house and a high influence of technology. It’s certainly important, but I think people need to realize that computers are made so user friendly that there are literally infants who have cracked the code to get what they want. This isn’t an educational source that is imperative to learn at a young age. With this sort of technology we need to ensure we are supplementing our children with actual experiences instead of allowing them to only learn online. That is essentially what is killing creativity, but with the death of creativity is the death of original thought… which is the only way to grow. And a slightly off topic side note, what good is a democracy without original thought?
      My idea is that as part of this high tech generation, we need to first limit ourselves or we really can’t limit our children. They still learn best from modeling and if we model screen time with computers, tv’s, phones, etc… limiting their screen time will not happen.
      There is really so much that encompasses the effects of technology that it is hard to even touch it. But certainly this is a huge start. I really wish people had the know how to go back to the library and read articles and studies on their own so they could come up with their own conclusion and how it would change their personal life.
      There is also the ‘helicopter’ parent; which the US has been correctly labeled as. This essentially creates the same results… we are killing original thought out of many branches of growth, not just one.

      • Very interesting thoughts.
        Our children were raised in a homestead environment where they had lots of chores outdoors. We were always working on projects and they participated since this is how the lifestyle works. When they began with technology, they already had an embedded respect for nature and love of outdoor activities. I think that parents need to limit their young childs exposure to technology, not entirely, but enough to achieve a balance. Also, we very often participate with our children doing homesteading tasks, so they have the benefit of our company, and our tutelege. With technology, they are sitting alone communicating with people somewhere else without the benefits of close companionship. We built our children small boats so they could invite friends to go fishing and exploring. They never brought along any tech gadgets and got some good outdoor experiences.

  • unknown

    my brother is all-ways on the x-box 360 he is only 8 and weighs about 190 I don’t know what to do I unplug it and more finally I took him swimming and sledding and now he is way better!!!!

  • Insomniac Mom

    My son is 14 and while he has xbox and we have had similar experiences with it, it’s the sum total of all the devices, computer, ipad, xbox, TV and phone. We are guilty of providing him access to all of these and we use them too in our daily life (not xbox). However, it is taking over his life. After schoolwork and Lacrosse, all his free time is taken up with electronics. He has no other outside interests. I feel he is becoming more introverted and rude and irritable. He is really not nice or pleasing to me or his sister or his Dad for that matter. We correct him and give consequences for his behavior, however, what we see is that he needs to have other interests especially with summer coming up. We sat down and had a discussion that we are going to have to limit the screen time (xbox, tv, ipad, computer, phone) to 2 hours a day during the summer and he had to make a list of projects and things to fill his time during the summer. His first response was “can I save up for a week and have a marathon one day a week?”. We said we would work with him but an all day marathon was probably extreme. We also made a list of suggestions which was coming up with a project to work on. It worked!! He is coming up with some summer projects after our prodding. Here lies the dilemma. His projects include: 1) making a home made Gillie suit. If you don’t know what that is because I didn’t, it’s an extreme camo suit with grass and string that makes you look like a Sasquach. It’s for playing Airsoft wars. 2) Buying a new airsoft gun and taking it apart and changing it into another type of weapon. Sort of like taking a shot gun and sawing it off to make a sawed off shotgun. 3) making a mini version of the 7 foot potato gun that he and his Dad made last year. It would be more like a grenade launcher with those small red potatoes. We back to open space but we are still in the suburbs. So you see the theme. What do I do? What happened to go carts?

    • It sounds like you are making progress. The Gillie suit and AirSoft are typical interests for teenage boys, at least it gets them outside. This may lead to camping, canoeing, fishing and more wholesome outdoor interests.

  • Garlon Slaton

    This works on your parents to right?

  • Your story is very moving, I admire people like you who endure through such challenges. It is likely your son was also hurt by the family troubles and found refuge in video games.
    I think your love and concern are well placed, as you say he’s a good kid, and hopefully he will burn through the video game phase of his life, and find reassurance in your consistent unqualified love.
    My suggestion is for you to support his efforts to get the GED, and also show interest in his video fascination. Draw closer to him through his interests, then you have a better chance of his seeing your concerns.

  • p.s. You didn’t screw up as a mom. You’re doing your best under a heavy load.

  • Echocookie

    The absolute #1 fix that NOBODY mentions is getting them involved in a COMPETITIVE game! I used to be all of the stereotypical things said about child gamers; introvertic, shy, rude even. It all changed when my dad bought me my first PC. At first I was learning economics on an online game that had a lot to do with trading and learning values of items. This has helped me immensly, I don’t buy anything without doing the ultimatum of research anymore. Then I got into a game about building robots, which sparked the techy inside of me and would later inspire me to make my own computer. Still, my problems were not solved. Sure those were some great life skills to know, but I still wasn’t comfortable talking to people (at the time I still had to wear a shirt while swimming!). Then I got into Dota, a 5v5 online game about working as a team to win. It pushed me to dominate in every match, I just wanted to be a great team player! Dota requires a lot of communication to perfectly execute moves to kill the enemy team, which would help me a lot with talking to people. I also saw myself being greatly boosted in confidence. When I started getting really good, seeing myself at the top of the leaderboards made me realize that I could really do anything I set my mind to.

    I later got into more games that involved competitive gameplay, and now I am a straight A student with more friends than I could ask for, I am open to everyone I meet, and even (surprisingly) my manners have gone through the roof since I picked up these games.

    I highly encourage all of you moms that are scared that your child won’t succeed in life to introduce them to more mind-stimulating games. If your kid’s favorite hobby is gaming (as mine is), then you should not try to fight that. Embrace it!

    • You make a great point – when someone has a passion, find ways to work with it. Your comment is helpful, and your personal story illustrates it well.
      Thank you!

    • Jz

      you mind share what was the economics game that you played?

  • ….moderation in all things…your mother knows this!

  • Just give yourself a chance, a little time for you to readjust to life beyond the computer. Ideas will come to you. You’ll appreciate the balance in your life, and may also enjoy your video games more when you’re not playing them all the time.

  • Jaden Goter

    I’m 15.

    I have good grades, a social life, a vast amount of friends, a healthy diet, no mental problems, and I’m definitely not overweight. In fact, I’m very skinny, but also not underweight. Ever since I was 3 I’ve had a fascination with computers. I find them very interesting, intriguing, and promising. I originally played games with family and friends, as a mean of having fun and socializing. Nowadays, my friends and I have grown on PC games. We never play alone. We play together, have fun, laugh, and build team-based, cooperative, and other skills.

    Another thing I’m interested is programming and digital music making. I love them both dearly and would love to spend more time developing these skills. I’ve made several songs. I’ve released two apps onto the App Store. I’ve made several 3d computer games and have thought about monetizing them. I’m also very involved with band. I’ve played the piano for 9 years. I’m constantly playing on my drumset.

    How could this be unhealthy? Clearly it’s beyond me.

    I’ve been recently limited to one hour a day due to articles like this. In fact, I’m using up all my screen time writing this. The computer has also been moved to the main level. I cannot talk to my friends anymore. We did it via Skype while we played games. Those were our get-togethers, our hangouts. I cannot program games anymore. I can barely get a thought out. I cannot make music anymore. I lose my train of thought by the next day.

    Now this presents a problem for me. This will be my career. These are my very closest friends.

    Well, it was going to be my career.

    They called me addicted, obsessed. But what did I end up doing? Bridging relationships and releasing two apps. Let me make this clear. I’m not buying drugs. I’m not addicted to pornography. I’m not overweight. I am exercising. I do have real connections to people in the real world.

    I’d type an essay about this, but I’m sorry,

    I’m out of screen time.

    • Jaden, Thanks for giving up your screen time to write this. Your points are well written and make good sense.

      Parents want the best for their children, and this article is written from such a perspective. We parents grew up in a different time and we are unfamiliar with the online activities of young people. You make it clear that it’s not all about playing games. You seem to have a mature perspective, and from what I read in your comments, you deserve more than one hour per day of screen time.

      The key word is balance. Young people especially need to develop their bodies with outdoor activities, and need to get out into the environment in order to learn to appreciate it and become environmental stewards throughout life.

      I think if you show balance in managing your time so that outdoor activity is part of each day, then your parents should be open to allowing you more time online to pursue your interests especially as they contribute to your career.

      Your comment is so well stated that this discussion would make an interesting blog post in itself. If you are interested, let me know. ( It would make an interesting counterpoint to our article.

  • Well. if you’re getting straight A’s in school, congratulations! And getting lots of social time at school and having friends over for Play Station seems normal and positive.
    Your mom was born in a different generation when kids played outdoors till dinner time, and had hours of physical activity which balanced the hours of sitting in classrooms each day. She is right to be concerned about your healthy physical development, and she understands the health benefits of spending time outdoors each day.
    A wise adage – “in all things moderation”. I suggest you thank your mom for her concern and tell het you’ll try to find balance in spending time outdoors in play, adventure and exploration.

  • Ellen Leahy

    Can you teach her to play? My great nephew taught me and I was surprised at the amount of dedication, hard work and learning that was involved. Or has she seen your videos? That is totally awesome that you are doing that. I think Mine Craft is amazing – consider a career in engineering if you love that game.

  • Crista Flenner Esparza

    Is playing Minecraft at the age of 13, almost 14, normal for a boy that age? We don’t permit GTA or other violent games. Call of Duty once in a while….

    • Minecraft is enjoyed by players of all ages. I would not be concerned.

  • Cliff Yang

    very tough problem

  • You could ask your parents how you can gain their trust, and that you understand moderation is the best course in most things.

  • Russell

    You didn’t screw up at all, you got dealt a crap hand in life and you did the best you could, most people would have no concept of how you struggled, hold your head high and just be his friend as best you can. Young men tend to be pretty stupid anyway (I know, I was one, both young and stupid) Time has a way of smoothing things out 🙂

  • Well, if you’re playing football 3 hours a day, and getting good grades, then you have a strong case. You could distill some of your parents’ concerns by showing them how you are benefitting from the time you are spending online.

  • There is such a thing as too much time on the computer, regardless of your grades. This is probably what your mom is sensing.
    Parents want the best for their children although we may not always have a gracious way of saying it.
    Here’a a great saying to live by: “In all things, moderation.”

  • danny

    Only let them play on weekends after do something with others. Kid have no self control that why they will play WOW for 16 hours. Minecraft for six. Take the computer out of the kids room if you can. . You are the boss.

  • Dede

    My son is 14 years old, he can spent 24/7 in the computer if I did not say that you spent too much in the electronics. I try to give him 2 hours a day but it’s been struggle with it , he always fight back to me. I try to give him little responsibility in the house ,like wash the dishes after dinner and keep his bed room and washroom clean. but all of that only makes us fight, I felt he don’t show any respect what so ever toward me. I keep explaining to him that he is not forbidden to use electronic but I wan you to have balance be twin electronic and real life . at this point I do not have any idea what to do any one have any idea ?

    • When I’ve been at my wit’s end with a child who won’t listen or accept my advice or directions, I have had good results by sitting down with him and asking him what he would do if he were in my place? What would he suggest if his child behaved the same way.

  • mahalo111

    I really don’t find any benefit at all to children or anyone for that matter playing video games. It is an enormous waste of the time in your life and what do you have to show for all that time spent? I too played video games as a kid so I am somewhat familiar with the addictive nature of this type of entertainment. I think one of my biggest mistakes as a parent was allowing this to start by letting my son use and ipad for educational games as a preschooler.Now he is in the 4th grade and we are about to go cold turkey on it all. I’m taking it so far as to enroll him in a Waldorf school now where he won’t be constantly reminded by his peers and eliminating all computer games period. On top of this we will be filling his time with swim lessons, family game time, martial arts and basically anything that inspires him other than video games. My wife and I have also agreed that other than answering the phone we won’t be using digital technology in front of the kids. Wish me luck

    • You seem to be a responsible and engaged parent. I think odds are in your favor that your son will respond to the efforts you are making to bring balance to his life.
      Thank you for this very helpful comment – many other parents share similar concerns.

      • mahalo111

        Thank you for your kind words and support.

        • One suggestion, which worked for us, was to set our kids up with activities that they could then share with their friends. For example, we taught them how to use boats and go fishing. As they became proficient, then friends could come along. There are many activities like this once you set your mind to it.

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