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Stimulation, being human and caring for your children


It is important to set limits on the amount of time and attention your child engages in video games.

Our body and mind require stimulation to learn and grow. Many such stimuli provide huge rewards. These rewards (usually in some pleasurable form) encourage seeking, consciously and unconsciously, the stimuli that generate these rewards. Rewards [e.g., fun, praise, stickers, money, points (in a game), etc.] that appear sometimes (intermittently) are the most reinforcing. That is, if I never know if/when a particular action or reaction or decision (all actions are results of decisions, conscious and unconscious) will generate the particular reward linked with that particular action (knowing that sometimes it does) and the intermittency encourages me to engage in that action repeatedly.

The slot machine provides a classic example of something referred to as having an intermittent reinforcement schedule found in gambling casinos (by the thousands and thousands). I put a coin in the machine and pull the lever. Sometimes I win money (maybe 3 coins, maybe 300 coins, maybe $25,000!); most times I don’t. So if most of the time I don’t win any money, why do I keep putting coins into the machine? Because, the next one might be the BIG one! Make sense?

Learning (the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught) occurs/accumulates through reinforcement (reward) of the action engaged in (not always immediate, but soon (however small the reward may be). And learning builds upon itself, particularly when the rewards increase in size/intensity as I repeat and add (make more complex) different actions guided by the increased size/intensity of the rewards. Make sense?

Video games provide (often) overpowering rewards and learning opportunities (which, in and of itself, provides a very powerful reward. Can you think of anything better than noticing your improvement in something you like to do?!). So overpowering, that a young nervous system (aka your child) can easily get strung out on a video game. That is,  many  find it difficult (nearly impossible for some) for the kid to stop on her/his own (in case you hadn’t noticed!). That difficulty to stop does not mean you have a “bad” kid.  Intentional defiance when that kid “forgets” or refuses to stop playing does not mean you have a “bad” kid.  It just shows how powerful a reinforcement (reward generator) video games can offer.

Survival requires learning. The human nervous system was designed to learn. Video games with their high intensity intermittent reinforcement schedule and high teaching potential can easily overwhelm a young (and not so young, for that matter) nervous system.

As a kindergarten teacher I always ended my first parent/teacher conference with the following: “A good guide to use as you figure out how to be a good parent: explore how many different ways you can say to your child, ‘I love you.’ ‘I love you’ does it well. Also, ‘Go to bed,’ though we won’t get much agreement from our children that that provides a very effective means of communicating the ‘I love you’ message.”   They all knew what I meant.

Limiting your child’s daily play of video games also communicates, “I love you.” For children under 12-years old, 20-45 minutes per weekday (after homework, chores, etc. are completed) sets a reasonable limit. For teenagers, 45-60 minutes per weekday (after homework, chores, etc. are completed) sets a reasonable limit. For the weekends, 3-4 hours per weekend for < 12 year olds and 3-5 hours per weekend for ≥12-year olds sets a reasonable limit. And, on the weekend, the kid can choose how she/he wishes to use that time. It can occur all at once (with the understanding that when allotted time gets used up, that’s it) or in smaller time periods spread throughout the weekend. My New


My New Year’s challenge to you: How many different ways can YOU tell YOUR children, “I love you?


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