What If They Play Video Games All Day?

Posted on March 11, 2014


“I don’t want our kids playing video games for 12 hours a day”

This has become a sticking point between my wife and me as we debate education.

I’ve come to believe that children will thrive when given complete autonomy (as long as they don’t infringe on the autonomy of someone else – the same parameters that we live by as adults). I don’t think it’s possible for one individual to know what is best for another individual. It might be possible for someone to recognize that someone’s decision may not be ideal, much the same way I might recognize that it would be healthier if my wife didn’t eat that cookie, but there would be hell to pay if I actually tried to stop her.

I think my wife agrees but she is struggling with it. She’s very traditional and the idea of letting children do more-or-less what ever they want all day long is a significant departure from what she had accepted as reality. She keeps coming back to the same statement:

“I don’t want our kids playing video games for 12 hours a day”

I would guess that almost any parent would be concerned by such behavior. I’d like to say it never happens in a democratic school, but I think it does sometimes. When a new game comes out or a student gets sucked in to a particular game for some reason they may play for hours on end. Probably not 12 hours straight or anything that extreme, but they may play for what seems like the entire day. Of course many mature and responsible adults also do this, some even taking a sick-day from work in order to play a hot new game, but that’s not the behavior we want to see in our kids.

Then there’s the articles, which point out that “children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology“.

Then there’s the fact that video game makers are trying to make them addictive. They are very purposefully doing what ever they can to make their game as engaging as possible, frequently employing the same techniques used by casinos to make slot machines enjoyable (variable rewards, etc).

Frankly I don’t have the strongest argument to counter all of this. If you give your child complete autonomy then they will likely play a lot of video games at some point in their life.

So why doesn’t it bother me? Why do I think it’s ok to let children play video games as much as they want to?

Well to start I probably wouldn’t hold true to that statement in an extreme situation. If a child or an adult were truly addicted (skipping meals, not sleeping, acting aggressively to those around them), then I would step in and try to talk to them or even try to physically prevent them from continuing. I think the chances of that happening are essentially zero, but it is possible.

Barring that gross extreme I’m really not too concerned about it.

I’ve never seen a student at a democratic school who had an unhealthy obsessions with video games. I think most of the unhealthy attitude that children develop stems from being prevented from playing video games more than from any addictive qualities the games may have. I’ve seen even the most avid gamer turn down a request to play video games once they had their fill. Video games may be a little addictive, but generally speaking they aren’t that dangerous. The vast majority of people (adults and children) are capable of having healthy interactions with video games without any external help.

It may not be easy to just let my kids play video games for hours at a time, but I really do believe they’ll benefit from being trusted and I believe that they’ll make good decisions for themselves. They won’t make perfect decisions, but neither do I. Frankly I think I can only make the situation worse by trying to stop them, starting fights, and turning video games in to a forbidden fruit.

Best just to let them play around, not make a big deal out of it, and give them the opportunity to develop a healthy relationship with video games on their own. My best guess is that by the time they’re a teenager and start to discover the opposite sex you’ll wonder why you were ever worried about video games becoming an unhealthy habit…