If your child spends more time than you would like playing video games, you’re wise to search for alternatives that will captivate them. Even if you’re not worried about the amount of time spent playing, you do want your child to be exposed to a variety of activities.
When my oldest child was two, he loved playing games on the computer. I chose quality games for him to play and I didn’t have concerns about his screen time. That was a long time ago. Now I have a child with ADD who loses time playing and chooses games over most other activities. This is worrisome. I read about a young man who didn’t come out of his cabin on a cruise ship because he was playing games the whole time. I have read about college students who have failed and young men who have no interest in getting married because all of their time is spent on gaming. This isn’t typical, but even if my son has half of these problems, it’s a concern.
Video Game Addiction
Video game addiction isn’t yet considered a mental disorder, but the behavior patterns have been observed and studied to some extent. True gaming addiction, which is fairly rare at a rate of just 1%, isn’t outgrown. Boys are particularly at risk as are impulsive kids like those with ADHD. The most remarkable data that has come from research studies to date is that kids with poor social skills are most likely to have a gaming problem. Gaming provides an outlet when other social activities are uncomfortable. Sadly, lonely kids tend to game too much and time spent gaming increases the sense of loneliness. Gaming addiction, like other forms of addiction, is also typically a response to life stress or at least suggests poor coping skills.
Your child doesn’t have to be addicted to video games to suffer negative consequences. Interestingly enough, taking games away or enforcing time limits with older gaming addicts doesn’t seem to help.
Teach Your Child Social Skills
The first step in helping a child who games too much is to help him develop social skills. I found an amazing free resource called 101 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills. It includes activities and printables that are appropriate for a wide age range. Some social skills are learned automatically; others aren’t. We have to be intentional about teaching these skills to our kids to fully equip them for life. Include one skill a day in your homeschool. That’s my plan. It’s crucial to understand your child’s personality as you teach. Introverted children aren’t abnormal. They just need time away from people to recharge. I recommend reading Personality Plus for Parents by Florence Littauer. Explain your child’s personality to him, especially if he’s an introvert. Many children mistakenly assume there is something wrong with them if they aren’t the extroverted American ideal.
After addressing social skills, what are some alternatives to video games?
Getting your child involved in sports is a great alternative. Social skills are enhanced and friendships are created. Sports also take up time in a healthy activity that cannot be spent on gaming. Sports can give your child the adrenaline charge he looks for from gaming — both from the activity and the competition. My son is already involved in a sport, but doesn’t spend much time doing it. If that’s your child, consider adding another practice, another team, or playing the sport as a family. The latter is my choice. We plan to spend more time playing tennis with my son now that it’s getting warmer outside.
Perhaps your child doesn’t care for or doesn’t have the skill he needs for traditional sports. There are so many options to consider: bowling, archery, fencing, and more. Contract with your child to keep trying different sports until something clicks.
A second alternative is to find a different group activity that is not sports-related. Preferably, there would be a competitive component to the activity and it would require time for your child to participate. A robotics team is a perfect option for kids who are engineering-minded. Competitive speech and debate are excellent for kids with strong verbal skills. Getting involved in theater productions is perfect for musical or artistic kids, even if they have no desire to act. All of these activities are excellent at helping children build relationships and they require a substantial time commitment. If your church has a good youth group, getting your child involved can make a difference. My kids have done volunteer work through their youth group and have developed leadership skills as well. Even when the group activities themselves are over, your child’s new friends may keep him busy with other social outings.
A third alternative is to enroll your child in outside classes that are not online. If your student is concerned about grades, any class will do as this will keep your child busy and learning social skills. A better situation, however, is for your student to take a class with peers. This arrangement allows for the possibility of making new friends. The very best situation is for the class to be an interesting one. You could enroll your child in classes through a local co-op. Some homeschooling parents choose to enroll their child in school part-time for this reason. Dual-enrollment classes are good for demanding a lot of your students’ time. But the sky is the limit when it comes to outside classes. They come in every variety. Should you force your child to take a class? I think it’s okay to require enrollment in some kind of class. Kids with anxiety issues will reject the idea, but avoiding social anxiety will not make it better.
A fourth alternative is to give your child a job or help him secure one. Money is a wonderful motivator and the social skills that can develop when working in a group are invaluable. There are so many options here. You can pay your child to work for you which will use up a lot of time he might otherwise devote to gaming. You could help your child find an internship in a field that interests him. You could help him find a volunteer position that makes him feel needed. The pull of gaming won’t be nearly as strong if he knows people are counting on him. If he’s old enough, you can teach him interview skills and help him find good employment options for a young person. One of my sons loves working so much that we had to insist that he cut back his hours!
A fifth alternative is to play games socially. We own so many games and don’t play them nearly enough. Have a family game night where you play the board and sports games you have. We have a ping pong table and love playing with family and friends. If you have video games that are participatory, you can play these too. I love Wii bowling and Wheel of Fortune. Create a competition for friends. More than once I have created an Olympics that involves darts, ping pong, a video racing game and more. Families compete against each other for gift cards and have a blast. Gaming becomes less of an issue if it’s done socially. You’re modeling for your child how to use games in a healthy way.
A sixth alternative is to choose educational video games and activities. I’m more interested in activities because most educational video games will be viewed as less exciting than a favorite video game. Beware of this before you pay for an expensive online curriculum. A gamer child may like the platform less than a non-gamer. I have a list of websites that include games that teach grammar, for example. One study suggests that the more competitive the game, the more likely kids are to master material. I really like engaging gamers with technical activities. This could be a course online that teaches robotics, coding, or videography. Again, the better option is to have the course be social. Have your child do the course with a sibling or friend. My gamer son prefers classes we do in our home-based co-op to courses he has to complete himself. Techie Homeschool Mom shares tech educational options and offers online unit studies that your gamers may enjoy.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of video game alternatives. I did some research to create a list of 50 alternatives to video games. I can’t wait to go over the ideas with my son. When you subscribe to the Sanity Savers newsletter, you’ll receive this list.
If you want help finding the best video game alternatives for your child, talk to other homeschoolers. Ask people in your local co-op about sports, activities, and classes. Ask online homeschool groups like HomeschoolScopes.tv about their favorite board games and tech courses. I have a plan for how to address my son’s gaming using these alternatives and I’m hopeful. I hope you are, too.
Which alternatives will you choose for your child first? Let’s chat about it on Facebook.