I think my kid is playing too many video games. How much is too much?

Every time I give a talk, people ask me what is “normal.” I also get lots of notes like the one below and they are challenging to answer as I believe this is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Here is how I responded to one thoughtful dad who came to a recent talk.

Dear Devorah,

I attended your talk at ______ last month. I found it very informative. I had wanted to stay after your talk, but there were so many people waiting to talk with you, that I just did not have enough time. My question is, At what age developmentally do you believe a child would be ok using one of these hand held gaming devices? Our son is 5 1/2 years old. We do not allow him to play any hand held or tv/computer games, such as a DS or X-Box, etc. He sees his friends playing with them and continues to ask for one. We feel he is not fully developed enough to have any time on it. We had a Leap Frog for Christmas one year and he seemed way too over stimulated.

We want him to be social and to interact with others. And we are not sure at what age he would be developmentally ready. Any advice?


Good for you for thinking twice! Happy to do a 30 minute consult with your family, but my “standing on one foot” response is…

A child of 5 1/2 may be cognitively “ready” and have the motor skills for some games on the DS or X Box–but that does not mean you should reconsider your approach if it is working for you. At 5.5 your concerns about overstimulation are very real—what you see after the Leapfrog experience or after he uses a friend’s x-box indicates that that is how his mind and body responds right now. Maybe that is find occasionally, but your don’t want him so hyped up every day!

Keeping handheld gaming devices out of your house entirely (for now) may be easier on your family than constantly setting boundaries about them. This time of year is tough, but try sledding or other winter go tos (indoor swimming?).

While video games may be more cognitively engaging than TV, a little TV during down/tired times of day may be restful while the games are not—so I think rather than a blanket “screen time” policy, it does make sense to think through how your child responds to each experience.

When he’s seven or eight, you can revisit. The problem solving aspect of games, and the opportunities ofr collaboration can offer great learning opportunities. Also, check out the wii sometime (maybe on your own…) to see if you can imagine some games the whole family might enjoy…In the meantime, see if there are any great board games he might like at this age.

You can trust your judgement as a parent that he does not “need” a hand held-gaming device in Kindergarten or 1st grade!

If you are clear and un-ambivalent about when you will reconsider, (ie when you are seven or eight we will think about it) that might curtail some whining….and even then–of course you will want some rules. But as I said–it is so much easier not to have it than to constantly be trying to “tame the beast” in your own home!

Good for your for observing your child’s responses and taking a thoughtful approach!

warm wishes,

Raising Digital Natives

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