When to worry?

Video games: Does my teen play too much?

Jeux vidéo: est-ce que mon ado joue trop?

Do you worry if your child spends too much time playing video games? Do you wonder which rules to impose and boundaries to set? You are not alone! Two parents of teens put their cards on the table by sharing their experience.

Lucy is the mother of two boys, ages 13 and 7. If her youngest son’s favourite activity is playing outside with his friends, her eldest prefers playing Fortnite in the basement family room. “He could play 24 hours straight if we didn’t limit him,” she says, barely exaggerating. A year and a half ago, her son discovered the massively multiplayer online (MMO) game through friends, and it became, like for many teens, a passion that monopolises most of his free time.

Lucy and her spouse are aware of the benefits this video game provides for their son, such as allowing him to relax when he gets home from school and socialize with friends, almost all of whom play on this platform. However, they wonder about the impact of his intensive use of online games. “Spending hours in front of a screen cooped up inside is a sedentary activity that cuts him off from family life and the outside world,” she worries.

The (difficult) management of screen time

Aware of the risk of loss of control associated with video games and of cyberaddiction, the moms agreed to limit their eldest son’s screen time. “During the week, we let him play an hour and a half when he gets home from school and sometimes after dinner,” Lucy continues. “Weekends are another battle: he can play 5 or 6 hours straight.”

Parents will agree: it’s not easy to implement rules at home and ensure they are respected, whether they relate to bedtime, outings… or video games! “It’s a constant source of conflict,” says Lucy. “Every time we ask him to unplug, we have to negotiate: if we give him 5 minutes, he wants 30.”

Control your child or teach self-control?

Fred is the father of a 15-year-old boy. Himself a gamer, the computer specialist initiated his son to video games on his Wii console when he was 5. Ten years later, his teen spends 3 to 6 hours a day on his cellphone, PlayStation 4, or computer to play various games or to watch his favourite gamers on YouTube. Contrary to Lucy, Fred does not manage his son’s screen time. “With my spouse, we decided to opt for accountability. We’re teaching him to control himself, rather than preventing him from playing,” he recounts. “That being said, if he exaggerates, we don’t hesitate to intervene and tell him to do something else.”

For Fred as for Lucy, the conflicts associated with video games mostly arise when parents force their teens to unplug. “To avoid arguments, we first find out how much time he needs to finish his game. If it’s 10 minutes, we grant him the time but ask him to turn everything off after, and, generally, he does,” explains Lucy.

Striving for balance

Fred sometimes wonders whether he gives his son too much freedom when it comes to screens. “At the same time, he doesn’t worry me because he has other passions. He’s very athletic and likes to play guitar,” he says. As for Lucy, her trick to help her eldest cut down on Fortnite is to encourage him to participate in extracurricular activities that interest him, such as fencing and robotics. “This way, I know that on those two nights, he won’t be playing,” she says.

Also, Fred and Lucy don’t hesitate to suggest an outing or a board game to their teens to spend time as a family and prevent them from automatically returning to the screen. “There is no clear path or specific rule to follow for setting boundaries regarding video game use. I believe that what’s important is finding a balance,” Fred concludes.

By Amélie Cournoyer, freelance journalist