I’ve been playing video games for over three decades, turning what once was a hobby into a writing career. I remember the clashes I’d have with my own parents back in the day, ranging from how long I could play to what games I could play to my mood while playing. Fun fact: They used to keep my consoles plugged into an outlet controlled by a light switch, so if I wasn’t listening to them, my progress was lost with a single flip.
What I didn’t know then (and what my parents didn’t know) was that there was a science behind what was keeping me glued to my games, and it takes more than a light switch to overcome it. However, game designers can make games using human behavior research to help them build healthy habits. You can create better gaming habits for your kids by understanding how serotonin and screen time interact.
Here’s your light switch.
Time limits are set.
How much time your child can spend gaming per day is different for each family, but it’s good to have a general idea where the baseline is.
This is what you can do: If you don’t already know how much time your kids spend gaming per day, consider tracking it. This activity can also be tracked by native apps for smartphones. Explore Screen Time on your iOs device, or set up Digital Wellbeing on Android, and see if your child’s game time falls within the suggested limits. Smart Family App can be used to help you limit data and Wi Fi usage.
Only for supervised play.
While this seems obvious, it is important to observe your child as they play their favorite games. Your knowledge will grow, regardless of whether they are using the TV in the living room for console gaming or playing tablet games while you’re on the couch.
This is what you can do: If you don’t know what to look for, you won’t know when to pull the plug. Get involved. Playing games with your children has many benefits. Soon you’ll be able to differentiate between games like Candy Crush and Fortnite (if you couldn’t before), and no matter what game your child plays you’ll notice the flow of a gameplay session, including the clear stopping points that you can use to end a session if your child is getting too absorbed.
Be on the lookout for clear signs of victory or loss.
Multiplayer games are designed to encourage players not to stop playing after the match is over. The “game over” screen will appear, but one of the more effective tools that keep players going is making it easy to jump right into a new match. It is important to know what these screens look for when setting boundaries.
This is what you can do: If you see words like “Victory Royale” or “You Placed XXth” flash on the screen, your child’s current session is over. They’ve either reached the end and won the match, or they’ve been eliminated from the game until they start a new one. Each of these screens is marked with specific visuals and sound effects—particularly for victories—so watch a few sessions and familiarize yourself with the match-ending moments. This would be the right time to ask your child to quit playing and go to school or get some work done.
Watching your child play on a TV screen is easier than on a tablet, sure, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to use the info on the smaller screen to your advantage. As a recent opinion essay in the New York Times explains, most mobile games center around “lives,” or a finite number of plays a game will give the player per day. Start any game your child is playing and look at the life counter to find out how many lives they can get each day.
This is what you can do: Track your kid’s scores and lives count and share in the wins. You can track how many times your child has started a new session, and how many they have left it. You’ll also know how many plays your kid needs to go through before the temptation of spending money for more sets in—and you’ll need to keep that in mind, or else you could be “accidentally” charged for extra plays.
Keep an eye on your quest log, or tracker.
Some children don’t play shooters or mobile puzzle games; instead, they prefer vast open worlds bursting with quests, enemies and unique locations. Some of these games, such as World of Warcraft, don’t have clear endings, so if you’re monitoring your child as they play one of these games, the previous tips won’t apply. Parents can instead use the open quest log to see what their child has accomplished. Pick one of the quests together, or let the child decide, and then once the objective is achieved they’re done gaming for the night.
This is what you can do: You can monitor the quest log (or tracker), which keeps track of all active quests that your child has completed at any given moment. Each one lists the specific objective your child’s character is currently trying to complete. You can track the quests that your child is currently trying to complete by using this tool when they start a new game. Choose two or three to complete, and once they’re done, it’s time to save and log off.
Incorporate 60 minutes of exercise for every 60 minutes of gameplay.
According to ongoing research, top gamers in esports consider their physical fitness a priority. Regular exercise can help gamers improve their response time and mood, and even keep them cool during stressful situations. Is your kid getting enough physical exercise to balance out—or enhance—gameplay?
This is what you can do: Talk to your child about how you can keep gameplay in harmony with the rest of your day. If your child is an avid gamer, you might consider adding 60 minutes of exercise per hour to their gaming time. Research suggests that if children mix screen time and physical activity early in life, they’ll continue the balance as they grow older.
There’s no pretending that supervising your child’s video gaming habits is an easy task, especially if you never played them yourself. The tips below will help you recognize features that can keep players interested and set clear limits on the time your child can spend playing each session. No matter which game they’re playing, these guidelines could help you and your child enjoy their favorite games with safe and healthy boundaries…as long as their homework is done.
Screen time is not enough?.