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Ask Henry: How much gaming is too much?

Dear Henry

I'm getting my son a Playstation 3 with some games for Christmas. He already spends a fairly large amount of time on the computer. I'm a little worried he will spend the rest of the summer on it. What is a reasonable time limit, and how should I enforce it?

Anticipating

Hi Anticipating.

First off, let him have a bit of a binge. Don't let him ignore the relatives or anything, but he just got it - give him a few days to not worry about rationing his time. Sometimes video games can be incredibly frustrating, and you might spend an hour not having fun trying to get to a part where you do have fun. Let him get a bit bored of it by himself, rather than cutting it off early and keeping that anticipation there. I'm guessing you would much rather he set a healthy amount of playing time himself, saving you the frustration of having to enforce the rules over and over again.

Of course, this isn't always realistic - I would have played games for days on end if my parents had let me, so you will probably have to set some limits eventually. On holiday days, two to three hours a day (and not just before bed) seems like a good maximum. No need to stick to these too much when he has a friend over-playing video games together is about as social as you can get in 2012. Leniency elsewhere makes sense too, if he just got given or bought a new game give him some time to enjoy it, the novelty will wear off soon enough.

During term time it is a different story. I wouldn't recommend the "only after your homework" route, he might have been thinking about playing this game all through the school day, and getting home to more work immediately is pretty stressful. If it's the middle of winter and he doesn't have much school work to do, I wouldn't worry about two or three hours playing games or otherwise diverting himself on the Internet. Games aren't as good as books for kids, but they shouldn't be considered "bad" at all, they are just a fun diversion that kids actually learn a fair bit from.

If I could give advice on how to set up this limit, don't tell him that video gaming is a "waste of time". He will disagree with you immediately, and that will set the tone. Plus, he might not have a proper sense of "wasting time" - video games are fun and children want to have fun. I would much rather my child one day play video games than sit in front of TV - at least with games they are engaging with and solving problems.

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Each week Essential Mums' Henry Cooke will answer your technology queries. Having just escaped his teens Henry can give you the inside running on what your teen is likely to be getting up to online, and can also help decipher some of today's technical mysteries. If you have a question about your kids and technology (or yourself and technology) email us at editor@essentialmums.co.nz with the subject title "ASK HENRY".

- Essential Mums

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