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Set rules for kids and video game play

After weeks or months of pleading, you let your kids convince you that they truly cannot survive without the latest must-have video game system, and you find, it now holds a place of honor in your living room. Suddenly, your children are suffering from selective deafness, not hearing your calls to family meals, homework, the school bus, or anything outside their games. Yet, the sound of a sibling lifting a remote is enough to bring them home from friends’ houses, ready to play.

Looks like it’s time to set a few ground rules. How do you get started?

1. Make a Policy.

The most effective way to set rules is to create a policy, and write it up. Post it on a fridge or another central location, and make everyone aware of it. There’s no arguing with a policy – when kids protest, you just point to the paper and say, “That’s the policy.” If you can manage a slight apologetic tone, so much the better.

2. Think Big Picture.

When you set your policy, bear in mind that video games are just one part of your child’s screen time. You want to limit their total screen time to a reasonable amount per day. Email, video games, and television shouldn’t total more than two hours for teens, and an hour for younger kids.

3. Learn and Understand Game Ratings

Would you send your tween to an NC-17 movie? Of course not. But far too many parents will let kids play the equivalent in video games because they don’t know what’s going on. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) [] rates the content in computer and video games, and you need to understand their ratings. Check the front of the box for suggested age appropriateness, and the back of the box for the content descriptors that may concern you. Never, never, never allow your kids to play a game if you haven’t checked the front and back of the box.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Enforce Your Policy

Your policy is useless if you don’t enforce it. Make sure your kids know that the rules you set at your house are in effect for your kids no matter where they are. What’s the penalty if you find they’ve been playing forbidden games elsewhere? It will almost definitely happen, so you need to figure out how to respond. Find what matters most to your kids, and use that as the enforcer. Cell phones, car privileges, or extracurricular can all be on the line for violations.

Setting rules is not the most enjoyable part of parenting, but it’s necessary. Take some time to think about the rules you want your kids to follow for video games, and follow through on your word.

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