As I write this, my husband and my two sons (ages 7 and 10) are live streaming the World Nintendo Championships. They are yelling at the TV. I’m pretty sure I just heard my 7-year-old say, “He beat that like a boss!” Last night they watched “The Wizard.” My husband is a software engineer for a large video game company. Let’s just say video games are very, very important in my house. Too important.
A few years ago when my kids discovered video games, we had limits. They were enforced, and all was well. Nineteen months ago, when we had our third baby, the limits got looser, and eventually they all but disappeared. When I was nursing for hours on end my sons amused themselves happily (and quietly) in the game room playing hours of Minecraft. I knew it was too much, but it was easy and I was tired. They got their homework done. They ate meals. Occasionally I got them to play outside or swim in the pool. I kept all of the plates spinning. In the back of my mind I knew they were playing too much, but I didn’t have the energy to deal with it.
Then I was sleep training and needed them to be occupied while I spent hours in my daughter’s room waiting for her to fall asleep. They happily obliged.
Eventually the game room became their default place to be. They’d walk in the door from school and head right to their games. In the morning they would quietly make their way to the game room before we woke up. Once in a while I’d find out that my 7-year-old had woken up at 4 or 5 in the morning to play. If they weren’t eating a meal, doing their homework, or showering, they were playing video games. If they weren’t playing video games they were watching YouTube videos of other people playing video games. It was all they talked about.
My husband came to me one day and said, “We need to do something about them—they are out of control.” He was right.
We decided to impose limits again. They hadn’t seen them in over a year, but it needed to happen. I was embarrassed that we let them get so out of control. They are children. Of course they weren’t going to limit themselves. We could correct our mistakes, but I didn’t know how they would take it.
We sat them down and told them about the new rules. They would get one hour per day during the week and three hours per day on the weekend. I thought they would freak out. I was wrong. They were actually excited. They asked if they could do things to earn more time. Then some amazing things happened.
1. My 10-year-old emptied the dishwasher.
2. My 7-year-old cleaned up his sister’s playroom without being asked.
3. They both put laundry away.
4. We taught my 7-year-old a bunch of new games, including chess.
5. They BOTH did some of the schoolwork their teachers sent home for the summer—WITHOUT BEING ASKED! I know… If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it either.
They earned extra minutes for doing chores, but they also earned more minutes when I saw them make a good choice like sharing or being kind. It has been a few weeks since the new rules have started. They are doing well. My husband and I feel like better parents. It’s harder now because they need more of my attention, but it’s a thousand times better.
It’s really easy to let your kids watch endless TV or play endless video games. It’s also really easy to correct a parenting mistake. Every once in a while one of them asks me how long the rules are going to last. I tell them they are here to stay, and this time, I mean it.