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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

The Secret of Game Night for Kids

by Ken Newquist / March 19, 2009

My six-year-old daughter is a gamer. She's had a Nintendo DS in her hands since she was three, and she's been playing the Xbox 360 with me almost as long. She loves video games, and would play them every night (and every day) if she could, but we knew early on we'd need to set limits.

Since Stargirl was about four and a half, we've had Game Night twice a week. Game Night is held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and lasts for one hour. She can play any game she wants -- on the Xbox 360, on the DS, on my Mac, or even a good ol'board game (which she has occasionally chosen) -- but she's only got an hour.

Over the summer, we added a new wrinkle to Game Night: we take away minutes for bad behavior. Whining? Refusing to clean up your room? Yelling at your brother? Not putting your dirty laundry in the hamper? All these will cost her minutes on Game Night. She can earn these minutes back through good behavior.

Game Night's worked out well. For one thing, it's established clear limits on her gaming. She gets to play for two hours a week. She might get bonus game time on a Saturday night if the family decides to play the Wii, but that's it. Game Night's also gotten rid of the "when can I play my game?" whining that we had when she was four, and Game Night hadn't been established yet. And it's also helped with discipline.

Gaming means a lot to Stargirl, and while it isn't our sole disciplinary tool, it sure is an effective one. Threatening to take away five minutes of Game Night gets her attention. Actually taking it away is an event worthy of tears.  She's also amazingly helpful on Game Days, since she's either eager to win back lost minutes, or intent on make sure she doesn't lose any more.

A big part of this is that she doesn't have any of her own game systems. The DS is mine, while the Nintendo Wii is the families and the Xbox 360 is mine. Even if we get her a DS of her own (a possibility I've been kicking around for a while) she'll need to play by the same rules.

This works for us, but I'm curious to know what other parents do. How do you regulate your kids game time?

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Our oldest son (4 1/2 years) does not spend too much time playing computer games, we don't have a console of any sort, nor a DS etc.

He does play games occasionally on the PC, usually on the BBC kids TV website, but sometimes actual PC games. The games he has have mainly been edu-tainment games that help with numbers and letters etc. including a Finding Nemo game which was popular around a year ago although it seems to have faded in favour now.
He has been playing a few of my puzzle games (variants on Bedazzled) with my wife, and the both find it great to work through them together.

I have had problems getting some of the kids games to run on my Vista PC, they are mainly flash based games that try to force a screen resolution and between Vista and my monitor I can't get many to run.

I guess we will probably be investing in a console within the next year or so, probably a Wii. We may also end up with a DSi. My wife is a total non-gamer and semi-technophobe, but she has indicated that both the Wii and the DSi might be interesting in the future.

I used to play hours and hours of the Atari, NES, and Commodore 64, so I don't see much harm in it. Typically I just let my children (son and daughter ages 5 and 9) play once their homework is done (it's either that or TV - and I'd much rather have their minds being engaged). They have a choice of Gameboy (my son's), DS (my daughter's), the Wii (mine!), or the X-Box (also mine). They usually choose the Wii (or Pokemon on the DS). We cut them off about an hour before bed time (the Wii makes them active, and they need a bit of time to cool down).

However, I like the "game night" concept.

As the father of six little goslings, all of whom love to game (yes, even the 1 yr old, though he doesn’t know it yet), I definitely feel the pain when it comes to kids wanting to be on the Wii or DS or GameCube all the livelong day. Not to mention the proud fact that I've instilled in them a love of tabletop/boardgames as well.

My wife and I took the approach of using game time as payment for jobs well done in the house. My oldest son, now 12, actually gets up in the morning, and after getting dressed and such will go to the kitchen and do some dishes. Now, keep in mind, we have a dishwasher, but he's still cleaning things up. He'll even go to the lengths of sweeping and washing down the table. Why? So he can earn more time for either his DS or the Wii (he loves Fire Emblem right now). Typically my wife hands out 10 minute chunks, up to 30 minutes tops during a given day.

So, clean your room? Nintendo time. Dishes? Yep. Even homework done in a timely fashion (we homeschool) can earn some down time on a video game or computer. Kids like to hit lego.com often and play the online games there as well.

So, yes, we have a firm hand on our kids electronic time. The only computer they can use in the house is locked down tight and in the living room (it's actually what we watch TV shows on now). What do they do if they're 'bored'? Read a book, kiddies. It's like TV, but you have to open it. And they can read as much as they want.

Anyway, I've rambled on enough. Hope this helps someone out in the 'verse.

My young apprentice turned three in January and has been playing Xbox games (mostly the awesome LEGO stuff from Traveler's Tales) since about November 2008. Right now, there's not a whole lot of restriction on when or how often he can play, though he will certainly be denied based on behavior.

I imagine we'll create some more restrictions in the near future, but for the time being letting him fire up LEGO Star Wars is the equivalent of hooking him up to an intravenous drip of concentrated geek, which appeals to me.

There are times when I tell him that he can't just sit around playing video games all day, and that's when I feel like I've descended into the inevitable hypocrisy of parenthood, because sitting around playing video games all day really, really appeals to me, and until he came along it was exactly the sort of activity I would engage in given the opportunity.

games are social mediums. we limit our 5 year old like so: he can only play Wii with mom or dad or with a friend. No solo Wii play; if he's alone he does the lego / superhero / coloring gig. or plays with his 1 yr old brother. Once a week we have Family Game Night where we all play one board game or card game together as a family. this keeps his head out of Wii land and helps him decide which board games he likes, etc.

Of course, the social requirement of the Wii will have to be changed once his brother is 3 or 4... becuase then we would have two little Wii potatoes on our hands...

Yeah, I know what you mean, it does have that "do as I say, not as I do" feel to it, though then again I can always say "when someone's paying you to play video games, you can play as much as you like."

Because that plan couldn't possibly backfire... :)

I can see the Tuesday/Thursday limit transforming to Mon/Wed/Fri (especially once Neutron Lad's old enough to have a game night of his own, and moves to Tuesday/Thursday).

One of the biggest things that Game Night has helped with is the constant questons of "can I play LEGO Star Wars now? How about NOW? Or now?". She knows that answer now, and while she can get a little crazy excited in anticipation of game night, it's gotten rid of that source of persistant questioning/whining.

Yep, sounds a lot like where we're headed. Stargirl is remarkably good about her chores on game days. :)  We don't have a family computer yet, but when we do, we'll set it up in a common area as you describe.

Sorry kids, no computers in your rooms. Yeah, I had one in my room, but it was a Commodore 128 with no internet. If you want a Commodore 128 with no internet in your room, I think I've still got mine down in the basement...

I think my biggest concern about nightly game play (at least video games) is repetitive stress injury; it is something that's showing up more and more with kids. Admittedly, I may be hypersensative to it because of my own brushes with RSI, but I don't think we'll go much beyond 3x a week for gaming with the kids.

I've also looking at the DSi; we've been talking for a while about getting a second DS for road trips. I can see us passing the time on long trips or plane rides playing Animal Crossing or MarioKart. And I'd be lying if I said the web browsing/camera capabilities of the DSI didn't appeal to me. :)

The Wii is definitley a great system for families; my daughter and I have had great fun playing Wii Sports and Wii Play (StarGirl loves it when she beats me at these games) and I expect it will only get better once my son's old enough to play.

We had a similar social gaming policy with StarGirl until she hit about age 5 (at least on the 360). She and I played a goodly amount of co-op LEGO games. We've let her do her own thing over the last year, particularly since getting the Wii, but I'd say about half the time she still chooses co-op.

thx for the inspiring article (and comments)
my own kid is not in gaming age yet, but I've been thinking a lot about this issue, as we should develop rules right from the start.

I guess we will establish family gaming days for coop games (on Wii) or board games too. though I would allow her to play board games with her friends on other days too.

I m unsure of how to handle educational games though,.. I tend to let her play those games when ever she wants, but rules have to be kept simple. Too many exceptions could make the whole concept of gaming-control obsolete.