Q: My 7-year-old grandson visits his dad twice a week and told us that he doesn’t play anything with his dad except for the computer. He recently came home from a visit totally preoccupied with a computer game he played while there. His mom doesn’t want him playing this game because it is for ages 10+ as per the recommendations on the game itself. His dad told him the “10” actually meant 10 and under, or over if someone older wanted to play it. We are concerned at our grandson's constant talk and excitement about this game, even when he is away from the computer. We don’t want him so involved in computers that he has no other interests in life. What would be a good amount of time for him to be allowed to play a game like this, and can it cause him to become addicted?
–Grappling Grandma in Columbus, OH
A: Dear Grappling Grandma,
Setting expectations for how media will be used can be tricky in any household, and when a child is living in two or more places, the challenges can be that much more…well, challenging.
I applaud you for checking in about what a healthy amount of computer use can be for a child. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids over age 2 use screens (including computers and TVs) for no more than 2 hours per day. As a pediatrician and parent, I recommend that they use entertainment media only after they finish the important tasks of life—like school, homework, eating well, exercising, reading, spending time with family, and sleeping. After that, they aren’t likely to have as much as 2 hours left over for entertainment media.
Your question about how much time he should spend using a 10+ game brings up another set of issues. First, know that game ratings are based on what the Entertainment Software Association believes that parents will find acceptable—not
based on recommendations from child development experts. And research on this issue shows that children of your grandson’s age learn from whatever media they use and tend to accept its content as “the way things are.” Therefore, content does matter, and increased exposure is likely to lead to greater effects.
Lastly, while we can’t say what will lead to addictive or problem media use, we can describe its characteristics: excessive use, withdrawal when they are not watching/playing/listening to that type of media, and an increasing willingness to accept negative consequences. For guidance on what to do in the case of problem use, see this Q&A about a teen girl addicted to TV.
Whether or not your grandson's use would be characterized as addiction. both he and his father deserve a more full relationship with each other. They should spend time doing a variety of things, which can include—but should not be limited to—playing video games that are ideal for the child.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,