EDUCATION
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Parenting: teens

How to limit time your child spends on computer games

Take a strong stance on limiting computer time, especially during school holidays. But whatever you do, don't try to take away your child's computer

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2015, 12:59am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2015, 12:59am

My Year Six son is obsessed with computer games. I've tried to encourage him to join some summer camps but he isn't interested. He just wants to play games all day. When I stop him he has no interest in doing anything else and says he is bored. I am at my wits' end.

For the new generation of computer-savvy children who have grown up surrounded by technology, it is their gateway to many things - information, social networking, music and, to their parents' frustration - gaming.

Almost every parent reading this will empathise with your situation. However, parents must establish good habits early and persevere. One important way is taking a strong stance on limiting computer time, especially during school holidays. A good rule of thumb for primary children is no more than an hour a day during the week.

Computers can inform and inspire us in so many ways, linking us to the outside world socially and with up-to-date knowledge. Interactive computer games can develop and challenge the brain in positive ways, helping creative thinking and improving reaction times. The downside is that they can be all-consuming and addictive. Research shows that active screens in particular, affect sleep and should not be used an hour before bedtime. Passive screens also compromise sleep. Recent studies have shown a huge increase in short sightedness in children due to looking at a screen for long periods of time. It is vital that your son takes frequent screen breaks - for young people the suggested time span is 30 minutes of use before taking a break.

Whatever you do, don't try to take away your son's computer. If gaming is one of the only things he enjoys or feels he is good at this could do more damage than good and affect his trust in you. You could offer him incentives to gain extra computer time this holiday, away from simply playing games. He could use this extra time creatively, learning new skills such as coding in order to design his own computer games, or learning a musical instrument using lessons available on the internet.

A holiday offers a welcome break for students from the busy routine of school. Don't underestimate the chance for your son to just "be". It is sometimes good for children to have the opportunity to be "bored". This gives them time to reflect, think and read and do all those things they don't normally have time to do, which in turn often leads to them being creative and imaginative.

Whatever you do, don't try to take away your son's computer

Provide some interesting art materials and let your son experiment. Encourage him to meet up with friends and have plenty of opportunities to socialise.

Make sure he gets lots of physical exercise to keep him fit. Get out and about as a family.

The over-use of technology can certainly be detrimental to general health and has been a key component in the decreasing level of fitness and increase in obesity in society, largely due to a sedentary lifestyle. Children's interpersonal skills can also be compromised due to long periods of time spent alone.

If you suspect your son is addicted, showing signs of being argumentative or depressed when away from the computer, have a heart to heart discussion with him about your concerns. If the problem continues, even when you have put serious guidelines in place, don't hesitate to get professional help.

Julie McGuire teaches at a local primary school