The Secret of Game Night for Kids

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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