Pro skateboarder Tony Hawk used to be all the rage. But I didn’t know Hawk’s name because of his numerous X Games victories or as the first person to complete the 900-degree spin. I knew of him because I could skateboard as him, on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 for Playstation 2. Not only could you hop on rails, do kick-flips, and ride across a cruise ship, but a few cheat codes could let you do tricks that were never possible in real life. You could turn gravity off, so your skater would float in the air, adding twists, turns, and flips for mega-multipliers and record-breaking scores. You could play as Darth Maul from Star Wars or Wolverine from X-Men and turn your skateboard into a snowboard. All of these settings were a change from the default settings—the settings my friends and I would always go back to in the end.Every video gamer is familiar with the default settings. They are what’s seen as normal—what you find yourself going back to without much thought, because that’s just what you do.
And all of us have default settings in our own lives. They’re what we find ourselves doing in those in-between moments, when we aren’t specifically working on something else, or we are waiting for the next thing. Waiting in line at the grocery store? Enough time for a Twitter check. Free afternoon? Netflix just added that new series. But there are also default behaviors that create real value in our lives, whether social, physical or spiritual, such as calling an old friend, going to the gym, or spending time in prayer and Bible reading.
It’s important to evaluate what our own default behaviors are because over long periods of time, all that extra time—in small and large doses—adds up!
And one of the most prevalent examples of default behaviors in many young peoples’ lives today is playing video games. They can provide entertainment, challenge players to solve problems, and even allow friends to connect and play online. When I was a kid, video games brought my brothers, and sometimes even my parents, and I together for Madden, Mario Kart, and Super Smash Bros.
H0w do I know if my child is spending too much time playing video games?
The problem occurs when video games become the default way to spend any amount of free time, when entire nights or weekends where there was “nothing going on” get spent in front of the screen. Instead of spending the time learning something new, spending time with groups of friends, working on a hobby, or getting involved in community and church activities, days and nights get swallowed whole by the allure of the next level that has to be beaten.
It’s important to encourage our kids to think about how they spend our free time--those times when they aren’t at work, school, or extracurricular activities. If all of that time is spent playing videos games, it might be time to evaluate the role they are playing in life. Video games are a fun way to spend free time, but they aren’t the only way to spend free time.
Encourage your kids to think about how to find the balance in allowing entertainment such as video games to provide a fun way to relax from the stresses and responsibilities in life and not as a way to crowd out or dismiss those other areas of life that are most important. If everything else gets done quickly or poorly to create more video game time, it might be time to evaluate their role. There is so much to be enjoyed at each stage of life, and young people today can miss out on unique offerings of this stage in exchange for video games. If every extra hour or afternoon of free time automatically results in video games, it might have become a default behavior.
When there’s not much else going on, it’s tempting for kids to drift toward video games for the sake of entertainment. After all, if they are bored, isn’t entertainment the answer? The solution to boredom is not entertainment. It’s engagement.
Encourage your kids to engage with the world around them. Getting involved in school, work, and social activities are a way to provide real fulfillment and that betters others’ lives. Remind them to be intentional about how they spend free time. And allow any video game time to provide a fun and relaxing break from time to time, because how else are you supposed to skateboard like Tony Hawk?
We asked a few parents in our community to share some practical ideas for how they navigate technology in their homes. Here is what they had to say!
- Set clear expectations and limitations. Kids need to be a part of the process so they learn how to create good boundaries for themselves. Healthy boundaries are one of the best pre-decisions we can help our kids learn for their long term growth and, in the short term, it saves us from the everyday battle and nagging. (For example, during school year, some families only allow electronics on the weekends.)
- Track actual time spent. Have kids color a chart or tally their time spent in front of a screen. It’s easy to let Netflix stay on too long or video games to continue for hours to pass “just one more level”. Set a timer so that there is a third party reminding them when their time is up. Most tablets and gaming systems have parental controls that allow a parent to set total screen time in any given day.
- Teach your kids the valuedelayed gratification. It is an important discipline to tackle the hard things first. Younger kids can earn technology tickets by completing necessary tasks (instrument practice, reading, chores). Also, every wifi router can be split into two separate networks. One network password goes on all the devices that are challenging to change, the second network password goes on the kids devices and can be changed daily. Kids can have “today’s password” when parents decide it is appropriate.
Jacob Clarke is a senior at Liberty University studying journalism and business. He first attended to NCC while he was interning in the DC area during the summer of 2015, and he then served as an intern with Uprising Youth Ministry during summer 2016. Jacob is from Richmond, Virginia and juggles his time between school work, working at the campus newspaper, and…juggling.