By Steve W. Nzioki
As a new parent, one of the things you always look forward to is your grown kid challenging you to a one-on-one drag race on Need for Speed. The cheeky look on your face after you take that shortcut he had no idea existed. The cheeky look on his face after he beats you anyway. It all sounds like the perfect dream until your kid turns 5 and his world suddenly becomes larger, with bigger responsibilities at home and at school. Restricting gaming time then becomes a necessary evil, forcing you to settle for frowns and grunts as the underage victim drags his feet to tackle homework or other chores around the house.
Last summer, I experienced firsthand the importance of splitting time between gaming and other facets of life for kids. We visited a couple over one summer weekend at their house with their two boys, the eldest at age 5 and the younger one still a tot. The dad had told me about this great plan they had with the kids and gaming, a reward system of sorts that gifted the kids an hour of gaming for every 3 hours they spent playing outside and doing chores. And it worked like clockwork. Up to that point, I hadn’t thought about what I would do to manage my kid’s gaming time when he was old enough to use a gamepad.
Letting the kids take part in other activities in and outside the house is important if you don’t want them being couch potatoes well into their teens. This is especially important if they are in school since there will be tons of things to do apart from gaming. During schooldays, setting up schedules is somewhat easier, since most parents simply allow kids to power up their consoles after homework and not after dinner. The real challenge comes when children are home for long stretches during holidays like Easter or during summer.
Finding a working system and sticking to it is the greater challenge. I know parents who have successfully tried different versions of the “earning” system. Some let their kids earn hours on such things as chores, reading, biking, or other non-gaming activity and convert these hours to equivalent measures of gaming (usually comparably less). Other parents put limitations on the time that can be spent on gaming daily or weekly, giving kids the freedom to divide that up themselves. You can also decide to have one or two days every week where you don’t set any limits, but you reward the kids when they successfully split up the time to include constructive tasks.
It is important to remember that no single formula works for all families. Some parents incorporate gaming time with family time and any disruptions to that schedule might throw off the kids. Some family dynamics such as parents living in separate homes may also make it difficult to implement some of the common gaming time management strategies. In such cases, parents need to be creative to avoid getting outsmarted by kids looking for more gaming time.
The key is to start training them as early as you can. I plan to incorporate some form of reward system as soon as my tot figures out that I am the guy controlling the spaceships on Halo. Remember to always stick to your guns when implementing these rules since kids have a special brand of cute stashed away for such moments.
Taken from the October issue of Geek Parenting, out now!