What’s the last thing you do before you go to sleep? Finish cleaning the kitchen? Brush your teeth? Tuck your kids into bed? For most young kids and teenagers, it’s look at a screen.
Most likely, this means a phone or tablet before bed. Although for some kids, the last thing they might do is turn off their video game. Often, parents might not even be aware of how much time their kids spend playing video games.
It’s no secret, video games can present a variety of problems for parents to solve. However, there are tools that can equip parents to make wise decisions for their kids and family. While parents with older kids maybe already have a screen time guideline in place, parents with younger kids might ask the question: When should my kids play video games?
Building a Strong Foundation
Even though video games are a modern invention, the Bible gives insight on how to set healthy limits for our lives. And this can also be helpful in thinking about when our kids should play video games.
Within Ephesians 5:15-17, the Apostle Paul provides some wisdom. “Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
In this case, Paul warns us to be careful in our behavior. Why? Because the Lord wants us to understand His will and avoid evil. God cares about where our attention goes. In other words, God desires for our thoughts and actions to mirror His own. So, when we approach a situation, such as deciding when our kids should play video games, we can think carefully and with discernment.
Strategies to Help Decide When Kids Should Play Video Games
As with most aspects of parenting, you should strive to preserve your relationship with your kids. Navigating screen time and video game rules can quickly cause emotions to stir. Be aware of this! And focus on maintaining a calm tone and body language.
Most importantly, remember to maintain consistent and honest communication with your kids. Develop their trust through listening to them while also providing wisdom through conversation.
Finally, you may want to consult PluggedIn’s Parent Guide to Today’s Technology. In this 8-part series, the PluggedIn team guides you through other technology conversations linked to the discussion of when your kids should play video games.
Focus on Your Kid First
In most cases, you know your child better than anyone else. Take a moment to pray and think through the situation. Then, trust your intuition when it comes to what is appropriate for them, especially with video games.
Often, the conversation begins with the actual game itself. By now, there are hundreds of thousands of different video games available. Games can range from family-friendly and educational to violent and profane.
With this in mind, focus on your kids first. Take a moment to think through how your children processes information. In some cases, video games can unfortunately provide a sensory overload. Consider how your children manage emotions. Do they know when too much is too much? Or do they need guidance in understanding what is wrong and right?
Additionally, think about healthy childhood development.
- What stage of life is your child in?
- What sorts of things are they learning for the first time?
- Could playing video games benefit or harm them at this stage?
Like movies, video games contain specific age ratings. But these might not always tell the full story. As mentioned earlier, use a Focus on the Family resource like PluggedIn to learn about a particular video game through a Christian worldview.
When Should Kids Actually Start Playing Video Games?
In a recent article, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents with children 18-24 months old should discourage any and all use of screens. The Academy suggests appropriate limits for toddlers and advocates for media and screen limits as kids grow into pre-teen and teenage years.
Within the research, the Academy also recommends that parents avoid “letting children use media by themselves.” This can help clarify when kids should play video games. Carefully think through other activities that you keep your kids from doing solo. Compare your approach to video games with how you handle things like phones and TV, as well as media-based activities with friends.
Among other strategies, the Academy also recommends that parents should implement the following habits:
Most of the leading research involving parent-to-child interaction emphasizes the importance of maintaining interaction with your kids through shared activities. This can even connect to screen time, such as playing video games.
Foster your relationship with your children by coming alongside them. In some cases, leading with your actions rather than your words can communicate far more to your children. Initially, consider introducing a video game that you can play together.
You can encourage your kids to develop their ability to learn by digging deeper into the contents of a game. Experiment with having them research the game or even create a presentation based on the game. If they’re interested in animals such as dinosaurs or polar bears, maybe begin with a game that has animals! Model healthy learning habits by helping them learn more about a game’s contents.
Healthy Habits for Kids Playing Video Games
Remember the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians: “Pay careful attention then to how you walk.” Paul doesn’t say never to walk. Rather to be careful when you walk. And the same is true in your approach to your kids playing video games.
Consider these habits when you are ready for your kids to play video games.
- Sleep: Help your child maintain a consistent sleeping pattern. Think about where devices live. Are phones, TVs, consoles allowed in your kid’s room? Consider the context of your child’s age to help you establish the best habits you can!
- Time: Set clear limits on the amount of time your kids spend playing video games. Be consistent in your approach. Also, consider how you can model similar habits with your screen time. Your kids are more likely to follow the rules if you do too!
We encourage you to make an intentional effort to lead your kids and family well. This means using the wisdom and advice God extends to us through the Bible to make informed decisions about technology choices, especially in deciding when kids should play video games.