When they hand you your beautiful new born baby and you stare down in wonder at them that first time, nobody tells you that you are probably going to end up trying to wrestle a gaming controller out of their perfect little hands 10 to 15 years later!

Online gaming has created a parenting nightmare that few of us are skilled up and ready for, especially as it is often a daily battle, with the potential for addiction looming over your child, and it can be exhausting.

How much is too much?

One of the most common questions I get asked when I give talks to parents about ‘How to Grow a Grown Up’ is ‘how much is too much?’. Most of us realise that gaming isn’t all bad, that young people connect with their friends and create communities via gaming, and it can certainly improve some motor skills and reaction times. In adults, studies have shown positive wellbeing associations with gaming.

But as with most things in life, balance is the key to a healthy gaming habit, and that is where the problems can start.

The simplest answer to how much is too much, is ‘when it interferes with normal daily life and activities’. For example; family meal times, holidays, homework or seeing friends IRL (In Real Life… I am so down with the kids!).

However, if your child is mixing gaming with sport, hobbies, meeting up with friends, family activities, time outside and so on, then I would not be too worried.

Having said that, sleep is one activity that should never be compromised on, so sleep should be in a category of its own to check on and ensure that they have a regular sleep pattern and are not gaming when they should be sleeping.

Gaming Disorder- controversial but with a rising profile.

At the most extreme end of the spectrum we have ‘Gaming Disorder’, not fully accepted by the scientific community as an addiction, but taken seriously by the NHS. In fact, the NHS National Centre for Gaming Disorders opened in 2019, and looks after children as young as 13, and their families.

These children and adults are referred to the Centre when family life is breaking down, violence results from families interfering with the young person’s gaming, or school is missed.

Most of us will fortunately never see things become this difficult, but being aware of what to watch out for, and how to ensure that things stay balanced in your young person’s life is really important for keeping everyone in the family well and happy.

Here comes the science…

There is some good evidence about the impact of screen time available here if you want to find out more in general. We are in the early days of research, so unfortunately the facts are quite mixed, and there are no absolutes when talking about this topic with your young person.

The BBC has some good resources for addressing gaming with your young person, so that may be a helpful place to look if you want more info, or ideas on how to address the issue, and they mention that in 2019 the average amount of time spent online by young people was 9 and a half hours per week. I personally suspect this will have increased significantly post pandemic…

However when you look for the science and guidance around how long is too long, it can be hard to pin down.

Lots of studies mention the negative side effects of gaming such as snacking (leading to obesity), lack of exercise, sleep disruption, and even eye strain, headaches or poor concentration. But gaming brings many positives too, so what should we do?

Finding balance

What we parents really want to know is where is the balance?

How can I allow my child time online to connect with their friends safely, feel part of their community and that they belong, whilst playing a fun game, but ensure that I protect their health and mental wellbeing too?

It is hard to get a concrete answer to this from the current evidence, though a good principle is to ensure that they have a balance of sport/activity (1 hour a day is the American Academy of Paediatrics recommendation), outdoor time, a healthy diet, regular sleep (8-12 hours a night) and gaming, with awareness of the 20-20-20 rule for eyesight protection (good for all of us who look at screens a lot) – ‘every 20 minutes, try to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds’.

For most of us, working towards your child having balanced healthy life habits will be enough (with being able to step away from the controller with ease being a key feature of that healthy balance), but for those who need a more time-based answer then the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends a maximum of about 2 hours of screen time a day after the age of 6 years (before that age, very little screen time is recommended).

Content v Time

However, and this is the important bit- the AAP is much more focused on content (what they look at) than on time spent (how long they are using a screen).

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry is even less specific and instead offers 'guidelines for healthy habits' not time limits, after the age of 6.

In other words, we should probably not worry too much about 2-3 hours a day of screen use, if it is a mix of media (YouTube/ gaming), and fun, educational or family oriented content.

So a couple of hours a day gaming is probably fine if they are doing other things too like sports/ sleeping/ seeing friends/ homework.

Remember, it is what they are seeing online that matters more than how long they are on!

With all that in mind here are my top tips for negotiating healthy gaming/ screen time;

·      Have a conversation with your child about gaming/ screen activities, but don’t do this when they are gaming!

·      Pick a chilled moment to discuss, and explain it is NOT about stopping them doing what they enjoy, but about a healthy balance.

·      Agree a rough daily time limit, but also content mix, and include family fun or homework using screens.

·      Agree that priorities like homework need to be done to a good standard before gaming can start.

·      Discuss what snacks are best when gaming- fruit/ yogurt or other healthier choices.

·      Come off all screens except maybe ‘normal TV’ for 1 hour before bed time.

·      Check in with them, and get them to learn to check in with themselves, about how they feel after gaming/ being on screens e.g. revved up, angry, exhausted, happy, agitated etc. Reflect on this, and what might help if they feel stressed.

·      Be consistent in your messaging, and try to be a good role model!

For more helpful resources or info-


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