10 tips to reduce gaming or screen time in children

Oprah Winfrey, the famous TV personality and television host conducted a social experiment in 1993. She challenged five families to eat dinner together every night for a month for at least a half an hour. At first, all five families found it difficult to do but there was a surprisingly pleasant change towards the end of the experiment. By the end they wanted to continue eating dinner together. However, the biggest surprise to come out of the experiment was that the children treasured the time spent together with the parents. This means that children are happy when they get to spend meaningful time with their parents.

Parents today are busy folk. If you and your spouse are both working from home or both working, it is increasingly difficult to take some time out for your kids. But if you want them to stop playing games too much it will require more hands-on time from your side. You cannot take away their devices as they need it for schoolwork. You need to be more actively involved in their work and keep an eye out. It is difficult do but the rewards are great in the long run.

SET AND ENFORCE LIMITS

As long as your child is under the age of 18, you should have the say in how much time they spend immersed in their games. Having clear and consistent guidelines will prevent excessive gaming. Be lenient but be firm as well in setting these rules down. Here are a few guidelines.

1. Allow game time only after they have finished their scheduled tasks for the day.

This includes homework, household chores, projects, and others. Kids are smart so be sure to check the quality of work done before you say yes. Put down the rule that playing is a privilege to be earned and not something they are entitled to.

2. Set some limits on how much your kid is playing.

The older your kid grows the further you can allow him or her to extend their gaming time. It is not alright for a six or seven year old to spend two hours playing online games but for fifteen to sixteen year old, it might be okay as they can handle the distraction better. Also it can differ on school days and non-school days. If necessary you can disallow gaming on school nights or limit it to 30 mins to one hour per day. Regardless of what rules you set, it is crucial to keep some days absolutely game-free. This will ensure that your kid develops and enjoys some non-screen time activities as well.

3. Reassess and re-evaluate.

Is your son consistently bagging ‘A’s in exams? Is your daughter excelling in all her extracurricular activities as well her studies? Maybe you can reward them by increasing the time limit for gaming. It is far easier to loosen restrictions than to tighten them. Your kids will understand better what is expected of them and maintain their achievements to enjoy their gaming privileges.

4. If they break the rules, you dish out the consequence

But don’t be too harsh. Set realistic consequences. The outcome for violating the rules must be enforceable and enough to make them understand their actions. Nowadays kids need their laptops and phones to keep up with school work and with sessions conducted online, it is going to be this way for a long time. So you cannot take them away. What you can do, is take away the games. Make them delete it or set up parental controls to prevent them from access online games.

5. Make sure you know what they are playing

These days the kinds of games kids are most attracted towards usually contain violent, graphic and explicit sexual content. As a parent you need to keep an eye on what kind of games they are into. Restrict and approve these games accordingly. Games like Cyber Punk 2077, Grand Theft Auto, Hitman and others all contain graphic violence and sexual content. For a minor, these are wrong sources of knowledge.

6. Find other recreational activities to do with your child

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You can teach them to plant and grow their own garden, take them to the local amusement park, go on a drive out, or find fun indoor games you can play with your kid. The important part is to do it together with your children for both quality time and a change of pace from online activities. Online games are only a click away and kids turn to them when they have nothing better to do and slowly they become addicted to them. Fill your child’s time with other recreational activities. Get creative!

7. Encourage healthy activities that translate into less screen time

If your child going out to play with friends? Are they playing board games instead of huddling together to play online on their laptops or phones? Have they picked up a book recently? Or taken interest in an instrument? If yes, then applaud them! You need to encourage them by giving our rewards for such activities. Rewards can be material or non-material both. Maybe you bring them a nice glass of nimbu sherbat when they are reading on a lazy afternoon. It can be money, or simple praise for doing something other than screen time.

8. Play with them!

You can try it. After all, what’s the harm? Let your child teach you one of their favourite games. It doesn’t matter whether you find the game instructive, amusing or mind-numbingly boring, it shows your child that you are willing to try something new. Trying something new is what you are trying to teach your child after all. It can also become a bonding moment for you and your kids. Once you have made an effort to understand the appeal of these games, there is a better chance that your child will listen to what you recommend afterwards.

9. Nudge them towards the ‘good games’

If you are a millennial then you probably know there is a game called Age of Empires. It is a strategy based game which requires you to set up your own kingdom or city, keep the economy flowing and protect it from enemy raiders by designing fortifications. It is a game which makes one think and these kinds of games are actually good for your child. Similar to Age of Empires, there are hundreds of such games you can either download or find online. Of course this does not mean they spend their entire day playing but during their ‘earned gaming breaks’, you can nudge them towards these games instead. There is a whole list of games which encourage creativity, thinking and management skills that you can find with one click. Instead of removing the distraction, you can make the distraction productive instead!

10. Lead the way – Educate yourself first

Don’t be the parent who just says social media is bad for you but doesn’t explain why. Kids these days are a lot more tech-savvy than you can imagine and you need to catch up. You need to stay up-to-date on the latest apps, games, and social media platforms and trends. If you are asking why, the answer is simple; you can’t teach your child about the risks of social media unless you understand the dangers yourself. You need to understand how certain types of media are rated, such as violent video games, if you are to prevent them from consuming them. If you cannot differentiate an ‘R’ rated game from an ‘A’ rated one, then imposing control is going to be difficult for you. Simply because you will not have any idea what you are talking about, the kids will be more inclined to rebel.

Most importantly, remember to communicate with your kid. Don’t just hang the rule board in their room and take off expecting all rules to be followed. Most parents resort to scolding or ridiculing their kids for being online for too long. You need to understand that these kids, especially the ones who are in their teenage years, are undergoing a physical, emotional and mental transformation. You need to be in control of the situation and talk to them in a calm and composed manner. Always let them feel your affection even when you are rebuking or laying down rules. This will help them better understand the impact of gaming addiction and get them to trust you more.

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