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One Dad Shares His Trick For Limiting Video Game Time

How to curb video game playing (1)


My six-year-old son had his face in the carpet.

"ARGH!" his younger brother echoed, copying his sibling.

"What is it, guys?" I asked.

"Why do we only get a half-hour for video games?" the oldest asked.

"Yeah!" the younger added.

The Nightly Saga Over Video Game Limits Begins. Again.

The timer set by my wife had gone off. My boys knew what that meant.

No. More. Games.

Initially they had been thankful for this timer-system because it meant that they had 30-minutes each day to play their favorite video game. But when their time ended, their thankfulness evaporated. They got wound up. Weeping and gnashing of teeth would start.

This happened daily.

>> Related: this mom shares her secret for why she's feeling less guilty letting her kids play mobile games.

We Try Troubleshooting

As parents, we were obviously wearied by this constant daily drama and tried to figure out ways to Make It Stop Already. We started by lengthening the time to an hour.

It ended in similar angst.

That's when it hit me: my boys' struggle was less about the length of time they played and more about a sense of accomplishment they were hoping for.

Cue the sun beams and singing angels.

"What if, "I suggested to my wife, "we let the kids know at the half-hour mark that their time is almost over. We can then ask them where they're at in the game and what they're trying to do. If it seems like it'll only be a few minutes for them to finish this goal, we let them go for it."

"That's fine, but what if it they end up playing longer than they say they will?" she countered. (She's very familiar with their wily tricks.)

"Then we bust them," I replied, with a smile. "Or we sit them down and explain that this new arrangement will require them to be honorable by holding to their word. If they can't do that, then we bust them."

"Deal," she agreed.

>> Related: a free mobile game app for kids with a surprising outcome parents will love

We liked how this solution accomplished three things: 

  1. It initiated good communication by collaboratively setting a time limit.
  2. It provided a chance to understand the perspective/motivation of our kids.
  3. It transformed technology into an ally instead of an antagonist.

Sometimes Simple Works

I cantanlines tell you years later that this has worked out well for us. I genuinely believe that part of the success stems from us finally understanding a key reason the kids were frustrated by an arbitrary time limit: it robbed them of a sense of accomplishment.

I realized as a dad that I can't avoid technology, but instead have to understand how this young generation is using it.

This solution isn't one-size-fits-all, and it may not work in every family. This is the just the thing that worked for us.

I'm curious: what tricks have you tried for limiting video game time? What's worked and what hasn't? Please share your ideas in the comment box, below. Who knows--maybe it will be the trick that works for someone else.

Thanks for reading,


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Showing 10 comments
  • Amanda

    We’re currently limiting screen time altogether from Monday-Thursday. On Friday after daddy gets home, we watch a movie together as a family, and alternate who gets to choose. If we aren’t headed anywhere on the weekends, we allow limited screen time, and this can be a mix of playing video games, watching a favorite show on Netflix, games or Disney Jr. on the iPad, or LeapPad games. We always give a reminder of the remaining time, and let them finish their show or game (“this is the last one”, etc.). It was a good two weeks full of whining when we stopped screen time during the week, but now they often don’t even want to sit and watch TV, even on the weekends. They’d rather play outside.

    • Stephanie Hillberry

      Thanks for sharing, Amanda! I’d love to hear more about the kinds of activities your kiddos do instead of watching shows/playing games. Also, what do you do in cold weather?

    • Karrie

      Was wondering the ages and sexes of your children? And what types of activities they now enjoy doing? Thank you for your post!

      • Tony Myles

        Hi Karrie! I have three kiddos – two boys (14 and 11) and one girl (turning 5 this month). We give the boys a regular amount of video game time each day – either TV-centered or Kindle. Our daughter gets some time on both throughout the week. If the boys do extra chores around the house, they can earn more time. Otherwise, we send them out to jump on the trampoline, play in the neighborhood or read outside whenever possible versus staying cooped up indoors.

  • Jordan

    Our children (boy, girl, ages 8 and 6) are limited to one hour a day, and that hour can only take place AFTER they are home from school. No electronics or television are allowed before school. Thankfully, there are several gaming systems that have very good parental controls that will either shut the system down after the allowed time OR start making an intensely annoying beeping sound if our kids surpass the limit. And when all else fails, we use the timer on the microwave. 🙂

  • Laurie Ross

    Thank You !

    This is a BIG problem with our autistic 9 year old girl who doesn’t have any friends!

  • Andrea

    Thanks for this! Just wondering if Amanda wrote you back with “off screen” ideas! “There’s nothing else to do” is a common phrase in our home:) Thanks for the tips!

  • Kristin Ply

    I always get the “I’m bored” from my 10 yr old son when he can’t play on the iPad. My suggestions of doing something in his room, doing extra chores, playing with neighborhood friends, playing at our basketball hoop, playing with little sisters, etc…don’t seem to be an option either. Hoping Amanda can share her “off screen” ideas! Thank you!

  • Lisa

    Our kids (13, 9, 7, 5) get an hr of time after school…after chores are done. On Sat. they have 1 1/2 hrs. (Also after chores are done). They primarily use their Kindles, which have a preset shut-off time. So when time’s up the Kindle shuts off. If they are doing Wii games we set the timer and give a 5 min. warning when the time is about to be up. We have electronic-free day on Sunday to give us all a break.
    I will say, even with all these limits there are still times when we notice that the kids’ attitudes become very entitled. So then we go on a electronics fast. Sometimes it’s a few days, sometimes it’s a month, depending on how quickly we see them returning to their normal selves. Lol!
    Other activities my kids do when off electronics: LEGOs, drawing/coloring, reading, playing board games, and going outside to play when it’s not blazing hot (we live in SW FL).

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