How many minutes of video games should kids play a day?
There is a common misconception of video games, that they are good to engage with for hours on end. They are not. Especially not for children. Parents often ask how many hours should kids play video games, here is my answer.
As a parent I understand the temptation to buy a game console like the Nintendo Switch and let my son play for hours on end, so that I can finally get some work done. But is that really good for my boy? Research shows that an over exposure to violent games and ‘rule-breaking’ video games (Need for Speed & GTA) has proven to have negative effects on people, such as; a desensitising to violence as well as a more likely probability to be arrested for crime such as speeding. We then have to take into consideration what a reasonable amount of exposure would be. Although there is no evidence to suggest a threshold of hours or minutes there’s another way to solve this issue.
I believe the correct way to look at this would be to first look at a child or young persons daily routine and break down some simple maths. Normally a child aged 3 and up would be at nursery or kindergarten or regular school. My son is 2 years old and he is at nursery 4 days a week. In a 24 hour day my son sleeps about 10 hours a night, that leaves us with 14 hours, it takes about 2 hours to eat breakfast and get him ready for nursery, that is 12 hours now, then he is at nursery for 8 hours, that leaves us with 4 hours. In the four hours he is at home; usually the first hour is his free time, where we let him decide his activity and he typically likes playing with his toys for a little while until dinner is ready, eating dinner, getting a bath, and then reading his books and night time prayer then falling asleep. That is what a typical 24 hours for a child looks like. In the future I would suspect video games would creep into the equation, unless he has other activities from school or sports we have to attend.
I use my son as an example, my son is 2, he is not a gamer, he sometimes plays games on my phone but he just isn’t bothered with video games yet, he would rather ride his trike or play with his tractors. Children should probably not begin to play video games until about 4 years old, as recommended by most mobile game makers. This minimum age gets older with proper counsel’s that deliver different experiences along with the game.
But think about your own children. Im sure the routine of your child, or yourself is something similar, add homework to the mix, or some type of after school activity and or team practice and all of a sudden you have a full schedule, most kids typically should have about an hour of free time or downtime, to do an activity of thier choice. This is what many experts would consider a healthy routine. If you begin to add 2 or 3 hours of gaming to this routine then it dramatically shifts into an unhealthy daily routine. Like anything else in life, when you begin to add more of something, you take away from something else. You add more games to a child or young persons routine, then all of a sudden you have less sleep, you dont have time for homework, you begin to miss your practice or after school activities. Thats when gaming becomes a problem. For Christians the obvious red flag of when gaming is a problem is when you are not able to encourage positive spiritual disciplines and practices such as a daily prayer time, which we usually do at bed time. Things like going to church on sundays, having family meals together with all screens off. These things are important and should not be jeopardised by gaming.
I would suggest as some experts do, about 40 minutes of gaming a day, and an hour on the weekends. This would ideally be between getting home and eating dinner, not before bedtime. This I believe would be a healthy balance of time, that would avoid overexposure, causing less of a risk of becoming near sighted and allow for the other activities to take place and allowing for a easier transition to sleep.
There is obviously a challenge for parents when you consider other factors such as the social element of video games. Games are where people meet and hang out and talk about things other than the video game itself. Video games are also very useful pedagogical tools for children, young people, and adults who have additional and special needs, they can assist with learning. People with disabilities rely on games and about 20% of all gamers are people who suffer from disabilities, in these cases game time should be a bit more. For people in these groups video games is more of a necessity and less of a luxury and we have to understand this.
However, for parents who struggle with parenting video games, there will be times where you will be the ‘evil parents’ and that should be fine. Parent, do not police and make informed decisions about the use of video games that children cannot make themselves.