Stephanie Brantz asks ‘How Much of a Good Thing is too Much?’


When it comes to kids and gaming – opinion varies widely.

In one camp are those who believe computer games and television are the root of all evil, while at the other end of the spectrum are those who use and abuse the ‘technology babysitting’ services (whether it be computer, gaming consoles, televisions or DVDs) on a regular basis.

The balanced view, I believe lies somewhere between the two.

Being time poor myself, I’m well aware of how much washing, vacuuming, cleaning and bill paying you can get done while your little angels sit in front of a screen but surely this should be the exception not the rule.  My parents often trot out the old adage, “when we were young, we played outside and made our own toys.” Sound familiar?   I like that idea immensely, but the cynic in me suggests that if they’d had Wii, Playstation or XBox, there would be fewer go-karts, model aeroplanes and paper dolls in the world!

I think it’s unavoidable that the future for kids of today will involve more technology than we can fathom, and gaming is certainly going to be part of that.  In fact, the strategic thinking, dexterity and mental agility required for games of all ages can certainly improve their understanding and development in a technological sense.  It’s making sure that technology doesn’t prohibit the development of other essential life skills, and ensuring that children remain safe in cyberspace that should be our primary concerns.

Rules in every household vary – I have friends who ban electronics and television completely in their homes, other people I know, allow their children to remain glued to the screen for hours at a time.

As ever, I am perched on the median strip in the middle of the information superhighway. Our system has evolved through trial and error – both mine and theirs.

Initially, there was a complete ban on electronics of all kinds during the school week – mainly due to the fact that I spent the majority of every single day begging and pleading for all three kids to complete their homework.  Unfortunately that resulted in gaming becoming the ‘forbidden fruit’ and something that needed to be obtained at all cost.

So the first step – buying timers. I bought three digital timers and labeled one for each child. They were then allowed to have one hour of ‘screen time’ each afternoon and could choose between computers (games or otherwise), other gaming consoles or television.  The theory was great -in practice. I had to be in the room to hear the timer go off, and invariably if I did hear it, the game or program would be at the best/most crucial or most exciting bit and it would be a travesty if they could not finish. If I didn’t hear it, then the aforementioned little angels, would just keep going until I realised the time and went to enquire if their timer was broken.

User error yes, and without a doubt ineffective for us.

Then, the discovery which changed our lives!  The Parental Control Setting on the console itself.  What a revelation. By using this function, it’s possible to set time limits for each day after which the console cannot be used without manually overriding it. Branching out from there I discovered that you can also limit user access to the internet, which is invaluable for families like mine where not all children are allowed to play games with ‘cyber friends’.  I’ve mentioned previously that I found out the hard way that unscrupulous online gamers can turn a PG or M rated game into an MA15+ game very quickly.

We also moved the console into a common area where I could keep an eye on them while I did ‘my stuff’ which was a move which bizarrely had a fringe benefit.  I used to think that their games were ‘their thing’.  Because I was suddenly in and out of the area where they were playing I was being asked to help them ‘level’ and defeat various challenges.

Thus began a new discovery for me. I found that playing with them is so much more fun than whinging about how antisocial gaming is. What started with just helping them out became an arm wrestle to get the controller off me! We now have regular on screen battles and it’s become shared time.  I finally understand the games they are playing and can speak in their terminology – the added bonus is that I can keep an eye on the content they are exposed to.

And do you know what else I discovered? The washing, ironing, cleaning and bills were still there the next day. I suspect there is a time limit on how long the kids will want to play with Mum – enjoy it while you can!!

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