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Video games are an
evil entity in some parenting circles. The violence, the suggestive content,
the lack of policing what your kids are actually playing. Arguments can go
on and on. I’m not here to talk about why video games are good or bad. The fact
of the matter is video games are a part of our lives. It's how we respond to our
kid’s interest that will set us apart from other parents.
Long before we had
kids, my husband and I talked about the rules surrounding video games. My
husband is in the industry. Video games would be part of our lives, and it
wasn’t something we could hide from our children.
It would be up to us to
police what our kids do with video games, just as it is up to us to police
which movies they watch. Well, at least when they are in our homes. When they
go to a friend’s house, that is a different story.
In our house we have
one simple rule for our boys when it comes to video games. They are young (just
3 and 5 years old), but we are already putting restrictions on screen time — even educational apps.
1. Equal time rule
Even while we were
dating my husband and I came up with the equal time rule. Life is all about
moderation and balance. If our kids wanted to play video games, they had better
be willing to do other things too. This unfolded in three parts. For every hour
of video games our kids played they would have to do an hour of reading, an
hour of playing with their toys and an hour of playing outside. This seemed
reasonable at the time, but it is something we struggle with, especially in the
winter months. Which is exactly why this is important.
I read every day to my
kids; an English Lit major raised me. This is just what you do. I love to read.
I have a thirst for adventures and stories that jump off the page. I want my
boys to have that same excitement over the written word. If they want to play
video games, they need to read some stories for the same amount of time they
play games. They can read with me or flip through the pages of a book. I don’t
care when or how that reading happens, but it needs to happen every day.
3. Back to nature
It is a sad day when
kids aren’t going outside because they want to sit in front of a computer or
TV. My boys need to get outside, play in some dirt, throw some rocks in a
creek, hang upside down on the monkey bars, sword fight with sticks, hike, ride
their bikes, whatever. As long as they are outside, they can earn some screen
time. As a parent I need to make sure I get my kids back to the basics of
childhood. I grew up swinging on a tire swing in our backyard in the city. I
made mud pies with friends (see, you don’t need to live on a farm to play with
mud), we played stickball on the corner and played kick-the-can as the
fireflies came out to dance at night. Even though we live in the city still, I
want my kids to know what it is like to run around with the other kids in the
neighborhood, sharing stories and adventures every day.
I knew that I had
dropped the ball on screen time restrictions when my five year old was sitting
next to me at my desk whining that he was “just so bored.” I told him to go
play with his LEGOs. No, he didn’t want to do that. I told him to go play with
any toys. No, playing was boring. Ummm, excuse me? My house is filled with
toys to an embarrassing degree. I was ready to get out the old packing boxes
and give his toys to some poor kids who would love to have all of his LEGOs,
blocks, trains and action figures. If he wanted to play ABCMouse.com or
PBSKids.org he had better remember how to play and have fun doing it. All
screen time got cut out of his life for a week until he figured out how to play
on his own, or ask me to play a game with him.
Video games are not
the end of the world. I think they are a lot of fun and enjoy playing them
myself from time to time. (Hot date night with hubby playing LEGO Star Wars for
the win!) The key for our family is everything in moderation. My boys will not
be sitting in front of a computer all day. They will get outside, read stories
about wizards and mysterious societies filled with kids with special talents,
and building a LEGO palace worthy of their mom the queen. Yes, Minecraft will
be part of our lives. The LEGO games too. I’ll have no guilt because I know my
kids will have grown up with balance, not a lopsided view of what childhood is
or has to be.