Video Games & Kids: Stop Worrying & Love Tech

Kids and video games: it seems like everyone has an opinion on the topic, but there isn’t a lot of practical advice for how to walk the middle road between unhinged internet addiction and living like the Amish. I’ve had my share of internal struggles about letting my kids game, and honestly still do! Here’s what I’ve learned along the way about introducing gaming in a safe and healthy way. Hopefully, my experience will help you find a strategy that works for your family.

On any given day, my older daughter, Arwydd, will play Genshin Impact (free), a magical adventure game, remotely with one or more of her friends. She plays 30–40 minutes a day during the week, a bit more on the weekends and during school breaks. She’s allowed to play more, but school, work, and sports naturally limit her gaming time.

My younger daughter, Frances, enjoys Cats & Soup (free), a relaxing game where cats cook and serve in a forest restaurant, or Merge Dragons (free), a fantasy puzzle game, on our iPad Air (with Screen Time settings enabled). She also enjoys playing Super Smash Bros ($59.99) on her Nintendo Switch Lite but is limited to an hour a day total for whichever games she chooses.

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Growing Up with Tech

I decided to check in with my coworkers for their opinions on gaming and kids. The consensus was that playing video games as children hadn’t caused problems academically or socially.

“I loved video games as a kid. My mom limited them to one hour a day between my sisters and me, so we’d each get 20 minutes, but honestly, the trick is to offer plenty of other fun and engaging activities. My sisters and I always snuck more time than we were allowed, but still wrote books, learned archery, made Pokémon out of polymer clay, broke said Pokémon by sending them bungee jumping, and all the other stuff kids do.”

-Amy Spitzfaden-Both, Managing Editor

“I grew up on a farm, and my parents didn’t put limits on how much time I was allowed to spend watching TV or playing video games. I still spent a ton of my time outside or reading.”

-Elisabeth Garry, Associate Editor

“My parents never limited my screen time, but it did end up costing me, as I developed a hyper-fixation on storytelling and went to grad school for literature. And now I work for iPhone Life, so… screens haven’t been my issue. I also have precious memories of playing pretend and going outside as a child. I don’t feel like screens hindered my childhood at all; honestly, the opposite.”

-Rachel Needell, Feature Writer

But things haven’t always been this way. Arwydd was born in 2005, and gaming wasn’t even on my radar as a parenting issue. I was completely unaware of the PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS, both released in 2004, and even the debut of the first iPhone in 2007 and the first iPad in 2010 went over my head. My cellphone? A trusty Nokia 3310.

Heck, I didn’t even own a laptop until 2009. We would watch movies from the library using the DVD drive. My first smartphone, an iPhone 4, was gifted to me in 2013, and we finally added a TV and internet access in 2014.

By the time my second daughter was born in 2014, the world was a different place. Screen time and digital addiction was a hot topic in parenting books and magazines. My eight-year-old reported that many of her classmates had their own smartphones and started asking for one of her own.

And… here’s where I messed up. I didn’t do anything particularly wrong; I just didn’t do anything. “Later,” I told her. “When you’re in high school.” But every year, she clamored more for the devices and accompanying experiences I was denying her. She felt different from her peers, even alienated, but I couldn’t see it. I had grown up without “all that” and thought she’d be better off without devices. But what I really did was set up gaming as forbidden fruit.

Setting Up Parental Controls

You don’t need to pay for a parental control app for your iPhone or iPad; Apple’s Screen Time feature is free and easy to use. Let’s go over how to set up Screen Time settings on your iPhone or iPad, as well as how to lock those settings so your curious kids can’t circumvent them!

To use these settings, you’ll first need to set up Family Sharing and add your kids to your Family Sharing Group. Then head to Screen Time in Settings, then tap on your child’s name under Family, to turn on ScreenTime (read here for more on setup). Now you can set Apps, Books, and TV Shows to the ratings you find appropriate, and tap Turn on Restrictions to turn on these limits.

Apps are the section that matters most for gaming; I’ve selected the 4+ rating, so Fran can play games rated for ages 0-8. You can completely disallow apps or choose an older age rating as appropriate.

You can also set time limits for how long your child can play games. Tap Games, then Time Amount, set your time limit, tap Set App Limit, then choose a ScreenTime Passcode so your child can’t change these limits.

There are many more ScreenTime limits you can set to keep your kids gaming at appropriate age limits and times, including blocking them from purchasing apps, and setting downtime, so their gaming doesn’t interfere with school or sleep.

As to which console was the best, the Switch Lite came highly recommended by my coworkers. I was sold when I found out about the accompanying parental controls that would allow me to restrict age-inappropriate software, block posting to social media, set time limits for daily play, and even view play activity. Armed with these assurances, I bit the bullet and purchased a turquoise Switch Lite, then gifted it to Fran for Christmas.

Over the last three months, Fran went from wanting to play her Switch every spare moment (and some we didn’t have to spare) to being able to control herself and play for about an hour a day after school, homework, snack, and chores. I think the initial insanity was 100 percent due to the novelty factor, and now that it’s died down a bit, I’m not too concerned about it any longer.

Arwydd has played video games less and less due to her burgeoning talent with the acoustic guitar I got her for Christmas. She even decided to delete Tik Tok from her iPhone because she deemed it a time suck.

And me? I recognize that it’s not fair to make our family party like it’s 1899, even if I wish we could. Video games are now a vital part of childhood culture, and they’re here to stay. My kids need to learn to moderate their tech time while they’re young, and I think we’ve made a good start.

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Author Details

Leanne Hays's picture

Author Details

Leanne Hays

Leanne Hays has over a dozen years of experience writing for online publications. As a Feature Writer for iPhone Life, she has authored hundreds of how-to, Apple news, and gear review articles, as well as a comprehensive Photos App guide. Leanne holds degrees in education and science and loves troubleshooting and repair. This combination makes her a perfect fit as manager of our Ask an Expert service, which helps iPhone Life Insiders with Apple hardware and software issues.
In off-work hours, Leanne is a mother of two, homesteader, audiobook fanatic, musician, and learning enthusiast.