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Video Games: The Great Debate and Where I Stand by Emily Griffin, MSW, LICSW

This blog post is recorded on a radio show that can be found at

My recurring segment on The American Family is entitled Mindful Parenting and today I’ll be addressing my take on the video game debate & how video games can reasonably be integrated into a family routine.In my household, video games are the coveted reward, the one thing my two older sons can agree on for “down time” after a week of busy school schedules, sports, and chores.

Many parents struggle with how to allow- or even if to allow- video games for their children. When we hear about kids playing for hours on end, sitting in front of the screen, it scares many parents into feeling like there’s no room for opening that pandora’s box they may never be able to close. Also, some of us treat games on ipads as if they’re not video games. Let me be clear that when I refer to video games here, I’m talking about all electronic games. Even the ones on your phone. Here are some guidelines to use for allowing video games, if you can believe that they don’t have to poison your child. These are my opinions, based on my experience in raising 4 boys, two of which are now 14 and 7 (the other two are babies).

Check out the games yourself. Do a google search. You will find detailed information and plenty of opinions on how old someone should be to play it (besides the rating on the box). Common sense media .org is a great go-to for parents regarding anything media related.

Allow yourself to enjoy playing. Yes, I said it. YOU can play- just accept that you may be terrible. Your kids will delight in your mistakes, which can humanize you in their eyes. Let your kids be the experts.

Sit back and watch when you can, asking questions to figure out what’s going on (you may or may not have a clue once they’re finished telling you). But at least you noticed and cared. Watching how they play can give you a new perspective on strengths that your kids possess, which you can reference the next time they need help figuring out something like a math problem.

Video games require patience, problem-solving, persistence, creativity, quick thinking, cooperation, teamwork, and hand-eye coordination. Help your kids get the most out of the skill building elements.

Limit the time for playing. Kids don’t need to play for hours on end. The warning on the box of one of my seven year old’s games says take a break every 30 minutes, 20 minutes if playing in 3D mode. I like to use a general rule that even on the weekends for my 14 year old, 2 hours is the max. I may let him go back to it later if he’s had a really productive day and deserves a bonus of some kind. My 7 year old can play for an hour at the most. I don’t recommend allowing video games on the weekdays.

With kids under age 10, be sure they have plenty of non-electronic playing time. Kids need to explore and experience the real world. I’ve worked at schools where I’ve noticed that kids who played video games often and excessively had a hard time with demanding instant gratification. They constantly needed stimulation and attention. This is not conditioning you want for your child and it will possibly lead to a needy, annoying personality.

Use the games to help reinforce fantasy vs. reality. Make sure they grasp that if they try to jump from one building to another in real life, they’d most surely be in the hospital in a lot of pain. Don’t take all the fun out of it, but do check in periodically to make sure they get the idea.

Be clear on which games they can play, and stick to it. Pay attention to when they may be ready for a game that’s more advanced, and this will help them to respect your guidelines, even if at a friend’s house.

Finally, be intentional with building character with your kids. You need to be able to trust that they know right from wrong in most situations, and you are the one who has to teach them. Use their media exposure and real life examples to build on their understanding of how to treat people. When you do that, you can feel more secure in knowing that they will keep things separated and make safe decisions (like not trying to act out a violent video game inappropriately).

So, to wrap it up, use your reasonable judgment and trust your kids. You may be pleasantly surprised by how you enjoy that time with your kids, as well as enjoying the game yourself!

Emily Griffin is a native Washingtonian, wife, and mother of four biracial sons in a blended family. She is the founder of Happy Parents, Happy Babies, LLC, which is her private practice devoted to in-home parent counseling, coaching, and support in the DC area. Contact Emily at for a free consultation or learn more at

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