Setting Healthy Limits for Gaming

Many parents are concerned with the almost obsessive nature in which children play video games. Over 90% of children play electronic or computerised games, and 25% play for three hours a day or longer (Petry, 2019). When played in moderation, research suggests that such games can be harmless and without adverse side effects.  However, if you have a child who plays video games, chances are that you have experienced difficulties in setting boundaries and expectations.

Parents typically become worried about gaming when their child begins neglecting homework, staying up late at night, arriving to school feeling tired, or forgoing social commitments. In such circumstances it is not uncommon to hear parents say their child is ‘addicted to video games’. The point of this article is not to debate whether or not video gaming addiction exists (it was included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-V as a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before being considered as a formal disorder) but rather to highlight strategies that can be used to set and enforce limits on video games. The following strategies were sourced in an article by the Child Mind Institute (2019) and based on the book Pause and Reset: A parent’s guide to preventing and overcoming problems with gaming written by Dr. Nancy Petry:

  1. Gaming should occur only after all other responsibilities have been undertaken for the day. These responsibilities should include homework and household chores. It is worth checking the quality of said chores and homework to ensure your child has not rushed the work in a bid to access the games earlier. Playing video games should be viewed as a privilege and not a right.
  2. Place clear limits on your child’s gaming. The American Academy of Paediatrics suggests children should have no more than an allotted 30-60minutes per school day and 2-hours or less on non-school days. For children under the age of 6, they recommend no more than 1 hour in total of screen timeper day. It is worth mentioning that some days should involve no gaming at all. The following website has an excellent tool which allows you to develop a Family Media Plan which includes: screen free zones in the house, screen free times, device curfews, balancing online and offline time, using manners, digital citizenship, online safety and exercise and sleep.


  1. When designing your rules, consider a reasonable time for reassessment. You will likely achieve greater buy-in from your child if they are aware change is temporary as opposed to permanent. Petry (2019) suggests 1 or 2 months followed by a revaluation of the rules. For example, you may decide the initial plan is too restrictive and may decide to loosen it if your child is adhering to it. Remember, it is much easier to loosen restrictions than to tighten them.
  2. Determine realistic consequences for breaking the rules. Whatever is agreed upon in the family must be enforceable and immediately applicable. A reasonable consequence would be for a complete ban on gaming for several days if they do not abide by the rules.
  3. Be aware of the games your child is playing and make sure you approve. As a parent, it is a useful strategy to find out about your child’s preferred games. In addition to rules regarding playing times, rules should also be stipulated to the type of games allowed. You can and should prevent purchase and use of games with extreme violence or graphical sexual content.
  4. Consistently monitor and apply established rules. One of the most important factors of any boundary setting is to follow through with consequences immediately if your child breaks the rules. You must feel comfortable with the plan you propose, and you must be committed, willing and able to follow through with it. If both parents are involved, then both must be on board with the monitoring of gaming and rules surrounding it.
  5. Identity other recreational activities. Look to provide opportunities to engage your child in activities other than video games. Your child will play video games largely because they are good at it and it is therefore important to find replacement activities that your child can also succeed in. Playing video games these days is readily accessible – they are often just a click away – and they will often partake in such activities when they have free time.  It is therefore important to actively promote what your child can do in their free time.
  6. Offer positive reinforcement for non-gaming activities. Provide rewards to your child for undertaking activities that do not relate to gaming. These rewards can be tangible, involving goods, services or even money in extreme situations. They may also be intangible such as verbal praise or simply attention. Often families who experience problematic gaming may encounter strained or fractured relationships. One of the ways to ameliorate this and improve that relationship is to introduce positive reinforcements for non-gaming activities.   


Petry, N. (2019). Pause and Reset: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Overcoming Problem’s      with Gaming (1st ed.). Ney York, NY: Oxford University Press.




Chris Clements

School Psychologist