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Now That School Is In, Are Video Games Out?

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KIDS VIDEO GAMES
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Are video games a god's gift to parents or a big problem for kids?

I've been debating this topic for the last two weeks, ever since my baseball-obsessed seven-year-old got a new video game. MLB 16 The Show, in case you're wondering. The kid could play all day if I let him. He's addicted, and if he's not making fantasy baseball trades, he's talking about them. I can't decide if the machine is a godsend or a cause for concern.

I've read the literature. Some researchers argue video games are good for you. It promotes hand-eye coordination, quick thinking and analytical skills, strategic reasoning, concentration and perseverance. The bonus: while he's occupied, I can get so much done around the house. I can cook. I can clean. I can have a conversation on the phone. I can sit and eat. I can go to the washroom in peace.

Yet the negative effects of video games are also alarming, and I'm often tempted to give our PS4 away. Studies indicate that violent games may promote aggressive behaviour, isolate kids socially, and detract from other activities like playing outside and getting enough physical exercise. Too much time playing video games may also be correlated with lower academic achievement, and an addiction to video games may increase anxiety.

One thing I have realized is that lots of parents have kids who are addicted to video games, and they are all struggling to find the best balance for their family.

I'm not sure whether to let my son play or drastically limit his playing time. But one thing is for sure: now that school is back in session, there have to be rules around how long my boys are allowed to play and when. I recently began polling parents about their rules, and my kids have listened intently to these discussions.

One family I know only allows video games and iPads on the weekend. (My kids scrunched up their faces: they didn't like that rule.) Another family allows it only on school vacations. (My kids had a fit.) I thought about limiting it to an hour a day, but which hour of the day, I wasn't sure. I don't want them waking up extra early if their playing time is in the morning. I don't want them playing right before bed, either. And I don't want them rushing through homework or "forgetting" to brush their teeth because I allowed them to play in the evening. Finally, I thought about giving the system to their dad, so they can play at his house. I wouldn't have to worry about making rules at all.

One thing I have realized is that lots of parents have kids who are addicted to video games, and they are all struggling to find the best balance for their family. So how am I supposed to figure out what rules are best for mine?

It was lucky for me that I ended up chatting with a mom of twin 12-year-old boys this weekend. She's been there, done that, and I always trust her sage advice, especially when it comes to raising boys. To paraphrase our conversation, she lets her boys play in the morning only once they are ready for school. They must stop when it's time to leave. In the evening, she lets them play again only when their homework and household duties are finished -- and finished well. Then they can play during whatever remaining free time they have before it's time to get ready for bed.

"We've made them re-do their homework many times until they learned their studies came first," she told me.

She found a good balance and her rules seemed like something my kids and I could agree on. On the eve of a new school year, we finally had the talk. These are the new rules: They aren't allowed out of bed before 6:45am. Once they have eaten, dressed and gotten ready for school, they are allowed to play until it's time to leave for school. In the evening, after they have done their homework and participated in any after-school activities, they are allowed to play until it's time to get ready for bed.

They are always trying to outsmart me and sneak in any extra video game time, so I will be on high alert to make sure they are learning good time management and listening skills. If any good comes out of their obsession with their PS4, maybe this new skill set will be it.

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