Who Has Control? Establishing Healthy Gaming Habits

“Healthy habits are learned in the same way as unhealthy ones – through practice.” Wayne Dyer

When dealing with a child or teen that spends too much time “gaming,” it is vital for parents to be involved in establishing healthy boundaries. Working toward a healthy relationship with the Internet will involve leading courageously on the part of the parent. The parent or caregiver will need to assertively and lovingly insist on a change of behavior. Below are twelve tips as you begin your journey.


Make sure the rules are reasonable and enforceable.

For example, if a teenager is staying up late and not getting enough sleep, having a technology curfew of 11 p.m. is reasonable versus saying, “No use of technology other than schoolwork will happen in this home.” However, if the curfew is not being observed, then privileges are suspended for the next day.

While setting limits, be honest about your concerns.

Let him or her know that there are good reasons for your belief that limits need to be set. The young person can hopefully see that these concerns are legitimate and that the rules are not being made capriciously. Ideally, you and your child or teenager can agree upon the rules.

Insist that non-screen activities occur each day.

Identify activities and hobbies in the home or better yet outside of the home that will bring much needed balance. Activities that involve peers would be best. Setting up a daily schedule can help with this balance. Encourage him or her to take charge of their own schedule but insist on balance with such things as school and home responsibilities along with recreational interests.

Taper “screen time.”

While the recommended time limit for Internet use is no more than two hours, it may take a gradual reduction of usage. Step-by-step decreases of screen time toward the two-hour limit are at least concrete steps in the right direction.

Limit access to all forms of technology.

If screens are going to be de-emphasized in the home, limit access to the various delivery systems. For example, taking away the gaming console does little good if one has access to games on the computer or Smartphone.

Get family members to commit to backing the parent’s decision to set serious limits on technology use.

Ideally, the whole family will agree with the importance of not enabling addictive behaviors. Instead, a family culture that says “we are all in it together” can add support and needed accountability.

If possible, have a separate computer on which to do schoolwork.

As anyone who has ever gone on a diet knows, it is much harder to quit when the object of your addiction is always around you. It is virtually impossible to avoid technology in our society. It is, of course, an integral part of schools today. Having a designated computer for schoolwork only sends a message to the brain that it is time to focus on academics. The recreational uses of technology in its many forms can wait for a designated time as well. This teaches a certain element of self-discipline.

Have a central location for the computer and game console.

This provides accountability and opportunities for families to play together (as opposed to spending countless hours alone in the cyber world). At the very least, there are no surprises as to what one is viewing and how long one is on the computer or game console.

Introduce the compulsive Internet user to peers who handle their Internet use sensibly.

Chances are that the Internet addict is only associating with others who are “hooked.” Helping him or her see what a normal relationship to the Internet looks like can be invaluable. The “Ah ha” moment is seeing that most others really can navigate quite nicely to the virtual world and back to the real world.

Support the Internet addict’s desire for change if he or she can admit to having a problem.

Parents and various family members’ support is much needed. Addictions are not beaten alone. Keep the lines of communication open and a positive relationship going despite the negative attitudes and behaviors of the Internet addict. Tough love is needed, but the tough must not outweigh the unconditional love. Remember that in the context of a relationship, people are more likely to change.

Be reasonably patient in the process.

While having reasonably high expectations for improvement, please understand that progress is not always linear. In other words, there will likely be ups and downs and highs and lows. The question is: “Over a period of time, is progress being made?” Young people need adults that believe in them and encourage their progress.

Talk about the underlying issues.

Try to have an honest discussion about whatever issues are happening in the child’s or teenager’s life. Is there something causing stress? Is there a problem fitting in? Have there been any changes or losses that have occurred? Compulsive Internet use is a sign of deeper problems.

We also have a FREE Activity you can do with your children or students. In the Control or Be Controlled Activity, the kids will work their way through an obstacle course using a “game controller.” Discussion questions are also provided

Written by Tip Frank.

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