As we socially distance, we’re spending more time at home than ever before, so it makes sense that our screen time has increased. Parents are online working from home, kids are online in virtual classes, and we’re all online catching up with friends and family.

Now it’s harder than ever to tell how much time your child should be spending playing video games. Is it bad to let kids play video games at all? How much video game time do the experts recommend? Never fear — we’ll cover all that and more here.

What ages are video games appropriate for?

Are video games appropriate for your child? It depends on the video game and how old your child is. Most consumer video games have a rating from the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) that indicates what age groups the game is suitable for. Games rated “T” for “Teen,” for example, are best for kids ages 13 and older.

The most effective way to make sure your child is playing appropriate video games is to watch them play or play with them yourself. Generally, you should avoid games rated “M” for “Mature,” which can feature violence, strong language, and sexual content unsuitable for kids under the age of 17. But there are plenty of games out there rated “E” for “Everyone” that could be perfect for any kid.

Is it bad for my child to play video games?

The real question is: Are there benefits to playing video games? According to the research, the answer is yes!

Video games can be much more than empty screen time. Fast-twitch reaction games can improve kids’ hand-eye coordination and processing speed. Strategy games, puzzle games, and RPGs (role-playing games) can strengthen problem-solving skills. Multiplayer games can promote teamwork (and help kids make new friends). Virtual reality games and games with motion controls can get kids moving. Some games like Minecraft and Roblox can even teach valuable STEM skills like coding while also encouraging creativity.

Of course, not every video game has these benefits, and too much time playing video games can lead to a sedentary, isolated lifestyle. As with most things, moderation is key. Make sure your child has a balanced diet of activities to go with video games: sports, music, art, socializing, reading — whatever they like to do!

How long should a child be allowed to play video games?

There’s no hard and fast rule for how much time kids should spend playing video games. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently eased their recommended screen time limits in light of widespread social distancing. A 2016 study of the effects of video games on kids ages 7 to 11 found evidence that the benefits of gaming didn’t increase past about eight hours of gaming per week, and that playing over eight hours per week could lead to social and behavioral problems — but as with many studies, causation was not established.

It’s up to you as a parent to come up with commonsense limits on screen time for your child, including how long they’re allowed to play video games. The biggest things to consider as you navigate these limits? Screen time shouldn’t interfere with healthy sleep and physical activity. Set limits to make sure your child has time for schoolwork, chores, and active play.

If your child is having trouble managing their video game time, try putting their PC or console in the living room so that it’s easier for you to interact with them and track their screen time. And of course, talk and check in regularly with your child about how things are going.

So is it alright for your kids to play video games? Absolutely! (Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when we’re all looking for safe things to do at home.) Just make sure you’re there to help them set healthy habits and pick the right games.

Video games can actually be educational — even ones that aren’t explicitly “educational.” Check out Sawyer for fun virtual classes that teach coding, game design, teamwork, and more through some of the most popular video games in the world.

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