How Much Time

How much time should my children spend on the computer?

I encourage you to assess how much your children are on the computer and then consider the other things they do with their free time. Most child development experts recommend that a child’s “total screen time” — which includes watching television and videos, surfing the Internet, and playing computer or video games — be limited to one to two hours a day.

If your child is playing a favorite game for, say, 40 minutes a day and watching one program on television, and the homework and chores get done as well as some physical play time each day, then I wouldn’t be overly concerned about curtailing the game-playing. On the other hand, if your child is glued to computer games for hours on end, it’s time to set limits. Here are some suggestions for keeping video-game playing time in check:

Set a time limit before the game begins. For instance, if you want your child to play for only 30 minutes, communicate the limit and set the kitchen timer. When the timer goes off, so does the game, no questions asked. If your child balks or tries to negotiate more time, calmly restate the time limit. If they refuse to stop playing, give the game console a “time-out.” Unplug the game and put it away in a designated time-out place for as long as you feel is appropriate.

Have a solution for the “But I’m in the middle of a game!” protest. Almost every game has a “save game” function, so your child can pause mid-game without losing any points, clues, weapons, etc. You may have to help your child figure out how this function works.

When “time’s up,” suggest a few alternative activities, such as playing a board game, reading a book, or doing an arts and crafts or other hands-on project.

Require that homework or chores be completed before playing games.

Don’t put the computer or video-game console in your child’s room where they can play unsupervised.

*Make sure that you know what your children are doing when they are on the Internet. Be interested in their online activities, and get them to show you the basics of the game they are playing, whether or not it is online.