Restricting Video Games

Whenever my son’s friend Drew comes over to play, the first words out of his mouth are, “Let’s play video games!” This 9-year-old does not own any type of video-gaming system. Worried that video games will contribute to inappropriate behavior or a lack of physical activity, Drew’s parents do not allow him to play video, computer or arcade games.

Smart enough to realize it is tough for his parents’ restrictions to be enforced in other people’s homes, this young man’s requests to play video games when at his buddies’ houses puts his friends and their parents in a difficult situation. Because most of his friends are allowed to play video games within reason, his persistence calls into question the best way to respect his parents’ wishes regarding video-game play when this child visits.

While every play date or sleepover does not need to incorporate endless hours of video games, some parents are comfortable with limited, controlled play on gaming systems. A mother of three boys, Traci Devlin permits her children to play video games.

“It is tough if one of the boy’s friends isn’t allowed to play video games because at some point during a three- or four-hour play date, the subject of video games comes up,” she says. Feeling as though she has to either betray a friend or disappoint her child, Devlin wonders which line to cross.

Whose Responsibility?
Josie Breitenstein is one parent who is concerned that her daughter’s fascination with video games might be harmful. “Even in moderation, I wasn’t sure if they were harmful to her eyes, concentration or development,” Breitenstein explains. Although she was clear on her priorities and mission to limit her daughter’s exposure to video games, Breitenstein wasn’t clear how to strike a balance between preserving her ideals and not impacting her daughter socially.

This concerned mother didn’t realize that limiting her child’s exposure to video games would create subsequent social issues. “I assumed most parents would be proactive about severely limiting or preventing video game exposure. I never imagined that not allowing my daughter to play would cause her to feel left out of certain conversations and social situations.”

Her restrictions also created some awkward moments for the mother of three with her neighbors and friends. “I’ve had a few parents express their unwillingness to respect my rules,” she adds. Breitenstein has had parents refuse to restrict their child’s exposure to video or computer games regardless of her perspective. She, like Devlin, has found herself in the awkward position of questioning how to ensure her beliefs and limitations are respected while not placing others in an uncomfortable predicament.

The flip side of sending her daughter to a friend’s house where gaming is permitted is hosting a play date for one of her daughter’s video-gaming pals. “It is tough to tell her friends that we do not allow certain computer games or video-game playing in our house,” Breitenstein adds. To her dismay, this socially conscious mother has had some children not want to return to her house to play because of her moratorium on video games.

Find a Compromise
Innovation can be essential to preventing an uncomfortable situation. If you’re hosting a no-gaming play date for an experienced gamer, suggest the children play the game in a different realm. Drawing storyboards of potential gaming situations or acting out some of the safe, non-violent situations of a video game gives everyone a chance to participate. Children can create their own game scenarios using stuffed animals as characters. Non-gamers will appreciate some creative exposure to a nonviolent game that also affords experienced gamers a different perspective to their favorite video game.

Acceptance and tolerance are also useful tools to cope with the different opinions concerning video games. Teaching children that everyone has different boundaries gives them insight into the concept of individuality.

“Equally important is that parents understand they do not have to feel responsible for wholly parenting or policing someone else’s children,” says family therapist Amy Klein-Zeff. While it is respectful to consider a friend’s rules or restrictions, it is important to respect your boundaries and practices as well.

Communicate with Parents
Counseling experts recommend replacing guilt with honest communication. “If there’s a conflict in your child’s liberties, talk with your parent peer to discuss both of your expectations and ideals to prevent an awkward situation,” Klein-Zeff recommends. Ask an opponent of video games if there is an acceptable game rating their child may at least witness or play at your house.

Often a reassuring promise that children will not play age-inappropriate games, will be supervised and will not play for an unlimited time leads to an acceptable compromise. You’ll demonstrate your respect for another parent’s rules by listening to his or her opinions and concerns. However, “ultimately, it’s your house and it’s important you feel comfortable with what you’re enforcing and upholding,” Klein-Zeff adds.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a licensed clinical social worker and freelance writer who frequently covers parenting issues.