Truth be told, I never love it when my children play video games. I’d much prefer them to be playing with their friends, reading a book, painting a picture, riding their bike, or eating mud (just kidding!).

It’s especially hard for our youngest (who is 11) to regulate her game playing. She often forgets to set her timer. Or she’ll say, “I’m getting off” but then she’ll get distracted and keep on doing “one more thing”.

During these summer months, we decided to do something extreme…

Unlimited video game time!

After reading all of this, you might be questioning our sanity and thinking, “Why remove the time limit on video games for a child who already has difficulty regulating her playing?”

In this two-part blog post we’ll talk about WHY we’re doing unlimited video game time–this is Part #1.

In Part #2, we’ll talk about HOW we did it and WHAT we learned from the experience.

Let’s dive in…

WHY we gave our daughter* unlimited video game time:
*We have two daughters, but the older one did not want to participate in the “unlimited video game time experiment”, so this post is only about our youngest.

PLAY

I’ve begun to shift my view of video games, ever since interviewing Dr. Peter Gray about the importance of play for the Education: Next Generation conference. He told us, for this generation of kids who doesn’t get to play outside with friends as much, that videogames are one of the rare places that kids can have complete freedom to create, interact, and do things, without interference from adults. Because of this conversation with Peter, I value video game playing more, especially the open ended, creative, socially interactive games that our kids play.

COGNITIVE BENEFITS

Dr. Peter Gray also cites some interesting research that video games help with the development of executive functioning, visual processing, attention, mental flexibility, job related skills, impulse control, memory, and attention.

SOCIAL

Our daughter lives pretty far away from her friends. It’s hard to get together for playdates. She’s made up for this a little bit through video games. She and her “real life” friends from school, are incredibly creative and social with their game play. They don’t just play the game the way it was designed. They have invented games within the video game itself. They act out books that they’ve read, visit each other’s “in game” houses, they “role play” relationships (mother-daughter-sister), make gifts for each other, they self-organize fashion shows and contests.

SELF REGULATION

Prior to this we’ve always given our kids a time limit with their video game playing. We’ve done our best to teach them to regulate their own play time by putting them in charge of setting the timer and getting off the computer. But frequently we fall into the role of “policing” their screen time. Not fun for anyone… I was reminded of the importance of helping kids self regulate their game playing when I participated in the Parenting in the Digital Age conference hosted by Susan Stiffelman. I’ve also been to two talks done by Yalda Uhls, author of Media Moms and Digital Dad, who says that children will eventually learn to regulate themselves. I began to realize that if I’m constantly managing her video game time she is not learning to regulate herself.

PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIP

In Martin Seligman’s book Flourish, he cites the research of Barbara Fredrickson and John Gottman. Fredrickson found that, in companies who were doing well financially, there was a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative comments made during business meetings. If the ratio dropped below that, the companies were not financially stable. Gottman–who was able to predict with a high level of accuracy couples who would stay married–found a similar ratio in marriage relationships. In his research, couples with strong and loving relationships had a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments.

I began to notice that so many of my interactions with our kids were about me “policing” and monitoring their video game playing. I was having more negative interactions than I wanted, it felt like our ratio was off, and it was beginning to impact our relationship. Unlimited game time shifted our ratio to more positive interactions because I didn’t have to be the “video game cop”, in fact we get to enjoy talking to them about their video games and taking a real interest in what they are doing.

BALANCE

Jason and I both grew up in families in which our parents didn’t limit our video game time. Granted, there is a difference between the games that our kids play now and the Atari games that we enjoyed in our childhood. However, when Jason and I started talking about our game playing as kids we came to the same conclusion… even though we had unlimited game time we had balance! Jason played a lot of football as a kid and had frequent practices, he rode his bike to the creek, caught fish with his bare hands, and played in a cave. I read a lot as a child, played piano, made art work, played Barbies with my sister, and cars with my brother.

When looking at our own family, we concluded that the video games weren’t the problem with our kids, the lack of balance was the problem. Then Jason and I asked ourselves: How can we help our kids to have balance in their day, with video games being just a part of what they do to entertain themselves?

So that’s why we’re experimenting with unlimited video game time.

But I’m curious about you… Do you limit your children’s videogame playing? How has it gone? Do you think that we are crazy for introducing unlimited game time?

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Stay tuned! Next week we’ll talk about HOW we structured unlimited video game time and WHAT we learned in the process.

Crazy experiments in parenting!

From the mad scientists,
Cecilia and Jason Hilkey