What is the appropriate age for video games? How young is too young for Fortnite? Is Roblox ok? I get more questions like these than any other topics combined. And it makes sense, because the majority of children are badgering you, as their parents, with these very same questions. Even as I type this my heart is beating a little faster because I know this can be a very controversial topic. I would love to say that I have the magic number, or sweet spot, for such questions, but I am not sure it exists. However, I am going to offer a few things to consider that may help you decide what is best - even if it makes you a little different than the norm, or unpopular with your children (you’ll be in good company with me!).
What are they not doing while they are playing video games? In other words, what is being sacrificed for the time spent on the screen? So, for me, it is not so much that certain games are “bad” or “violent” (although some most certainly are) but it is more about what preferred opportunities my children are missing out on because they are glued to a device. Are they missing out on a neighborhood game of four square? Could they be playing basketball in the driveway with their siblings? Could they be walking the dog or exploring the creek out back? I know these can sound idealistic but you can fill in the blank with what is important to you and your family. What is it that your family values that your children may miss out on if they are in the trance of gaming? And are you helping your children to choose those things you value?
Are they ever bored? Has your child ever been forced to solve the problem of boredom? In a book called Breaking the Trance the author states that, “Deprived of access to recreational screen media, the child becomes bored and deals with the boredom by finding things to do. The child’s brain needs this type of boredom, because without it, it cannot exercise neurons that are part of the imagination process and this is how all of us develop skills and wisdom to grow up.” Solving boredom is part of problem solving and developing critical thinking skills. I fear that devices have become a digital pacifier that instantly soothes boredom, frustration or anger which in turn has deprived our children of developing critical emotional regulation skills. I’m sure each and every one of us over the age of 30 can think back to our smartphone free childhood to a long, hot summer day when you were bored out of your mind. And just then, your boredom drove you to build that fort, or form that neighborhood club, or create that drawing that’s still hanging in your grandparents’ home. Our parents did not have to be deliberate in helping us unplug, but as parents in the 21st century, we unfortunately do not have that luxury.
Can they take them or leave them? This is a great question to ask yourself to determine if your child may be screen or game dependent. I’ve heard countless stories of children throwing tantrums when asked to turn off their device or setting their alarms to get up in the middle of the night to play when their parents are asleep. If you suspect that your child can’t detach, it is time to intervene and help them wean from gaming in a healthy way (slow reduction over a course of time). I was reading in Glow Kids the other night and was shocked to hear that mental health providers prescribe four to six weeks of “digital detox” for a technology induced hyper-aroused nervous system to reset itself. Four to six weeks. No wonder childhood anxiety and depression are on the rise; these little bodies are not made for this level of stimulation. The author also suggests that kids need to get busy with new, fun things to do to replace their tech habits and connect with other people and nature (Kardaras).
This information is in no way meant to produce guilt or shame, but more so to provide some thoughts for reflection. It may even begin with us as parents doing a technology check on ourselves to break our own trance. I know I have been convicted of mindlessly reaching for my phone in a moment of silence or losing track of time on fruitless scrolling. I’m still learning what boundaries I need to set for myself and I am an adult with a counseling degree. So, I have empathy for my students who do not have the capability to set tech limits or the self-control to turn it off. They are desperate for us as parents to help them develop good habits with technology and know when it's time to unplug or reset. If you need any additional resources on this topic please do not hesitate to reach out to me. The grace abounds as we walk these tech trials together.
Angela Liner (’00)
Lower School Counselor
Glow Kids, Nicholas Kardaras, Ph. D.
The Tech-Wise Family, Andy Crouch
Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age, Richard Freed, Ph. D.
Reset Your Child’s Brain, Victoria L Dunckley, MD