How can parents set limits on screen time and still preserve some sense of sanity this summer? Let's look at a few pieces of valuable advice in this week's MMO Family.
Do as I say, not as I do
Common Sense Media offers advice on setting limits, and among the tips is the importance of setting an example. If a parent is constantly fiddling with his phone, checking his email, or surfing the web, it's hard to convince a child to cut back on screen time. While parents work to negotiate acceptable gaming time with their kids, they should also consider their own "screen time" and ask whether they might need to set some limits for themselves. As families prepare for summer fun and family vacations, parents might want to take a little vacation from their mobile devices, TV, and computers as well.
A second helpful tip is for parents to create a schedule of tasks and activities that children should do every day. Real-life responsibilities should always come before gaming. In addition, Common Sense Media suggests setting aside time in the day for "downtime." It's OK for kids to be idle and even bored because it gives children a chance for "introspection and self awareness." There are so many things that compete for a child's attention that it's hard for them to just have quiet time with their own thoughts. As summer arrives, there's a good opportunity for parents to give kids that needed downtime.
Massively's Shawn Schuster wrote a terrific soapbox about how parents should think twice before brushing off their children to play a game. As he put it, if you're making your children wait while you game, it's time to step back and rethink your priorities. The raid can wait, but your kids cannot, and you can't go back in time and do it over. He adds that your kids will be max level in no time, so don't put gaming ahead of their upbringing. While we all share a common enthusiasm for MMOs, Shawn's Soapbox is a valuable reminder that we need to stay vigilant about our real-life priorities, particularly when it comes to juggling parenting and gaming.
One problem with MMOs is that they usually require long gaming sessions in order to get anything meaningful done. It's hard to set firm limits because there's no real end to an MMO. Fortunately, many studios are doing a better job of including activities that can be done in shorter amounts of time. And there are many kid-friendly MMOs that children can play in short stints.
Another way to prevent gaming sessions from running over the time limit is to discuss ahead of time what activities the child will be doing during that session. Developing a "gaming itinerary" helps the child stay focused and makes it easier to convince him to log off when time is up. Meanwhile, a parent might be more willing to give a few extra minutes if she knows that her child really means it when he says he's "almost done."
Make the most of it
When parents set firm limits on game time, it actually helps children make the most of their game time. If a kid knows he can play for hours at a sitting, he's more likely to waste time while in game and then protest loudly when he has to log off because he didn't get done what he had planned to do. When a child knows there is a concrete stopping point, he's more likely to get more out of the game in that fixed session than he normally would.
Use it in a positive way
Gaming can actually make those long days of summer more relaxed and enjoyable. Last summer, I often allowed the kids to play their game of choice before bedtime, and it actually helped them to unwind and relax after a busy day of summer activities. Video games can have their place in the family summer schedule as long as it doesn't dominate and detract from other activities.
There are some MMOs that can help kids keep their academic skills sharp during those summer months off from school. Parents can work with their kids to find a balance between games that entertain and games that teach. It can be a struggle to convince children to study over the summer, but some kid-friendly MMOs do a great job of sneaking in a little education into the variety of in-game activities.
Even with the best game plan, there's always a chance that there will be an occasional clash between parents and children about logging off and shutting the game down. But that's not really that different from sporadic disagreements over staying up late, eating that second ice cream sundae, getting out of the pool, or riding that hair-raising roller coaster. For kids, summer is partly about pushing boundaries and doing things that they normally can't do when it's colder and school's in session. But in general, if you are proactive in setting a firm schedule, creating a gaming itinerary, and working in video games in a positive way, the family as a whole will be able to enjoy all of the best of summer.
The MMO Family column is devoted to common issues with families and gaming. Every other week, Karen looks at current trends and ways to balance family life and play. She also shares her impressions of MMO titles to highlight which ones are child-friendly and which ones offer great gaming experiences for young and old alike. You are welcome to send feedback or Wonka Bars to firstname.lastname@example.org.