These days, whenever I blog or speak about the value of video games as educational tools, I almost feel like I should a bumper sticker like those you see on the delivery trucks of alcohol distributors: “Play Responsibly!”
Yes, we all know that some people (adults are as vulnerable to this as kids) spend too much time playing computer games. Do I really have to say it? I do not advocate that anyone spend too much time playing video or computer games. I similarly do not advocate that anyone spend too much time watching TV, reading, running, or hiking in the woods (don’t scoff…I have relatives who can’t hold a job because of hunting, fishing and trapping addictions – somehow we never hear about those in the media!).
Unfortunately, “too much” is something that people need to define for their particular situation. I can’t give you a number, which frustrates parents who ask me how much time their kid should be spending playing games. The answer they are looking for is really, “less than what he is spending now” … that negotiation needs to be taking place between the kid and his (or sometimes her) parents or guardians.
My general rule of thumb, especially for parents or worried spouses is this … figure that it is a hobby or a sport. How much time is reasonable for someone to spend – for instance – on reading fiction for pleasure or stamp collecting or something sedentary like that? Use that as your guideline and suggest other, more acceptable uses of time.
A note to parents: if you look at some of the more popular games … World of Warcraft is one … you CAN set time limits for how long a child is in the game. Use these tools if necessary in conjunction with discussion and modeling of appropriate behavior. If you have a hobby, use it to discuss the appropriate balance between getting the necessary stuff done … and having some fun too. Kids need to learn how to balance fun and necessity, so look at this as an opportunity to teach some important life skills. It’s not easy, but it is essential for all of us to learn to play responsibly.