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Video Games: Finding the Right Balance

by Elisa All

My 10-year-old son, CJ, has a pretty well-balanced life. He does his homework each day after school, he plays sports year-round, he competes in chess tournaments, he plays the piano and he still has enough downtime for reading or playing with friends. But while he and his buddies are likely to be found in the backyard tossing a football back and forth, it seems like more and more, they’d rather be inside playing video games.

The funny thing is, the games they enjoy playing are sports or action oriented. So if they’re not actually throwing the football to each other outside, they’re inside pitting one football team against another. Of course, then there’s the Pokemon battles, the Mario racing or stunt snowmobiling…

As the boys play, they are interacting with each other in a positive way – it’s not uncommon to hear them saying things like, “Great move!” or “Way to go!” Their hand-eye coordination is being enhanced and they’re learning more about the sports they’re virtually playing.

But if there’s a “dark side” to video games, it’s that they are almost too much fun. We were out to dinner with some friends when their son left to go to the bathroom. He was gone longer than he needed to be, so when his dad checked on him, he discovered him playing his Game Boy in the bathroom!

Video games will likely continue to grow in popularity. With the holidays upon us, many kids will be adding more video games to their wish lists, and they’ll have more downtime to play with them. So how do you strike that balance between the fun of video games and too much couch time? Where do you draw the line between the benefits of video games and kids’ overexposure to them?

Of course, the answer is going to vary based on your unique child. They way I see it, video games can be used as a reward for having completed homework, chores or music or sports practice. The privilege of playing them also can be taken away if those things are not accomplished. In general, we only play video games on the weekends or if friends are over during the week. And we limit our video game sessions to no more than 45 minutes. In addition, the kids are only allowed to play games that are rated “E for Everyone” by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that it’s important to use the ratings when choosing games for your kids. However, “…watching and listening yourself are the best ways to decide which … games are suitable for your child,” they say. The AAP also notes that it’s key to limit your child’s total screen time to no more than one to two hours per day (none at all if your child is younger than 2), and this includes TV, movies, video and computer games and the Internet. “Consider using a timer to enforce the rule,” they say.

The AAP offers a list of signs that your child may be overexposed to media and video games:

* Poor school performance.
* Hitting or pushing other kids often.
* Aggressively talking back to adults.
* Frequent nightmares.
* Increased eating of unhealthy foods.
* Smoking, drinking, or other drug use.

If you feel that your child is affected in any of these ways, it’s important that you take steps to lessen their exposure to media and video games. Get your child involved with more outdoor play, sports, learning a hobby or instrument or even just reading age-appropriate books.

And remember that the most important thing you can do is to set a good example. A parent is the most important role model in their child’s life. Just as you do in other areas of your child’s life, set the ground rules for playing video games and be sure to enforce them.

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