This site contains affiliate links. Please see Policies for more information.

“Mom, can I play a game?”

It means something completely different now than it did when I was little. It used to mean Chutes & Ladders. Now, it means PS3. Or Wii. Or XBox.

How do you do it in your house? Does your son or daughter have free reign over video games? Are they allowed to play whenever they want, or do they have to ask before touching anything electronic?

Video game rules for tweens: How we tackle the never-ending battle for screen time

My tween used to ask us to play video games every 30 minutes or so, and it drove us crazy. It frustrated us because it was all he thought about. It frustrated him because he didn’t know when he could play and he wanted to make sure he didn’t miss his golden opportunity. He loves video games. And because he is a straight-A, polite, honest, hardworking kid? We’re working with him.

Through many trials and errors, we have come up with a “system” to get the video games under control. It’s a definitely a compromise, and the word system is… well, maybe an over-statement. But it works for us, and maybe it’ll save you some headaches, too.

Our video game rules are:

1. No video games on school nights. No exceptions. I don’t want him rushing through his homework so he can play games. When he is done studying, his growing body needs to be doing something other than sitting still and staring at a television screen.

2. Unless there is a “special occasion,” (see #4) there are no more than 4 hours of video game playing on the weekend. Four hours is plenty of time for a kid to sit and relax by himself. He can use all four hours on Friday night or spread it out over the weekend, but when it’s gone, it’s gone… sort of.

3. It’s possible to earn extra video game time, but he has to go outside to do it. Roughly, one hour of outdoor exercise earns him 30 minutes of video games.

4. Playing at a friend’s house is considered a “special occasion.” As are weekends that he brings home report cards and sleepovers. We allow more video game time when friends are over, and when he is at a friend’s house playing, he plays by their rules. (Yes, *gulp*, if Scott’s Mom lets him play video games all day, then our tween gets to do that, too.)

5. Every once in a while, throw in a “marathon day.” Yup, you heard it right. Maybe he’ll get bored after a few hours… maybe (hopefully) he’ll realize that he doesn’t feel his best after playing for 12 hours straight. I don’t know. There’s only one way to find out.

The bottom line? Tell your little addict when they can play. Tell them when they can ask to play. And let them know that good behavior, high grades, and exercise will be rewarded.

Looking for a fun family night idea? Everyone plays during a digital family game night!

Similar Posts

Did you love this recipe?

Make sure to comment below so we can chat about it! Or follow on your favorite social network for even more family recipes.


  1. Oh, we are really struggling with this right now, and I completely agree that clarity of rules and systems is key. We are a high technology use family, my husband works in IT, and we have three boys. Luckily, the youngest still wants to play outside all day, but the 11 y.o. and almost 14 y.o….not so much. Our mistake was not immediately placing hard limits on the oldest’s cell phone use. We’re pretty strict about computer/video game use (at least among their friends, most of whom have no limits) but we’ve been less strict about the games on the cell phone which are really the same thing. So now the 11 y.o. is justifiably mad that his brother has been getting WAY more screen time because of the phone, the oldest is pretty dang happy with his extended hours, Dad doesn’t think limits are as important as I do (because he plays complicated computer strategy games in the evening instead of watching t.v. with me) and we have a mess on our hands. I love the idea of tying it to other activities to promote balance, and will be working a few of your ideas into our upcoming family meeting on the issue.

    The hardest part is thinking back to the relatively unfettered access to TV watching I had as a kid in the 70’s and 80’s, and realizing I am just fine, and turned into an active, contributing and engaged member of society. How different is it, really? The argument could be made that TV is more passive and more creativity killing than a videogame….

    1. Agreed. Agreed. and agreed. Same exact thing here with the 10 and 14 year old. We took video games off the 14 yo’s phone for a while (and restricted app downloads), and he regulates himself better now. We also have talked about how if we see too much of the phone and not enough of his face, we’ll mention, “why don’t you put the phone down for a bit.” We say that instead of nagging, and if he picks up on the hint we’re good. If not, the phone gets taken away for a few days.

      And I think the same about the tv. I came out ok. So we try to be aware of that while also making sure that he interacts with us and his friends as well, not just screens.

      Thanks so much for leaving your comment. It reminded me of a few things, and it’s so helpful to remember that we’re not the only family dealing with this. ;)

  2. We’re really struggling with this with our 12-year-old, except it’s not necessarily games, but just iPad screen time. She wants to do everything from researching something she loves, catching up with friends on instagram, “window” shopping, games, etc. She also has been assigned a lot of school projects that require a computer or tablet. We’ve told her she gets an hour total a day. But then she sees her older siblings on their smart phones, computers, etc. (they’re 16+) which we don’t limit (they know that dinner time, etc., is face time not screen time). She obviously doesn’t want her school time to count against her “fun” time and suddenly we have an ongoing battle.

    She gets great grades and is a pretty conscientious, mature, and responsible kid. But she tends toward couch potato-ness. I’m really not sure what limits I should stick to. We didn’t have these issues with the older kids because they were more active and didn’t have tablets/computers until they were older (and didn’t care much about video games). Our youngest saved up her allowance and birthday money for many months to buy her iPad mini just after she turned 12. Sigh.

    And yes, I watched an abundant amount of TV growing up and I’m not any more damaged than most. :)

  3. Waaaaaaaaaa! lol.
    I have a 15 year old and I lived with a challenging health condition that affected my mental clarity for 5 years. Combined with my minimal knowledge of technology, this technology thing has resulted in a continuing frustration for both of us. I haven’t been able to set clear rules and enforce them consistently.

    She received a free iPod Touch at the age of 10. I approved for various reasons, mostly based on ignorance. She received that thing before I ever got my first smart phone.
    Bottom line is that the combinations of challenges on my end has created a dynamic where she jumped into the iPod screen without my really knowing what was happening or how to handle it. Nothing “bad” happened. She’s just addicted to screens!! It drives me bananas!! It doesn’t help that her father has TV marathons with her every weekend she visits resulting in about 30 hours of TV in one weekend!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m not exagerating.

    Looking back, it would have been best to have gotten her a simple phone and go from there. It’s hard to reel her back in when she’s had free reign for so long.
    I have intervened on my better days to educate her about such things as GPS and taking pictures.
    I’ve intervened and attempted to set boundaries but feel confused each time because this is not how I grew up!! I have nothing to go on. No reference.
    I’m about to dive in again. Does anyone have a similar experience?

    My updated plan is:
    3 hours of shows M – Th…TV or computer
    4 hours of planned shows on my weekend, if that
    9 p.m. – iPod wifi turns off so she can keep her music and Computer and phone (only ph and text) go in my room
    No watching shows in her room with headphones…watch in LR with no headphones
    Write down shows she plans to watch
    Make a Technology Plan
    I model what I want from her – my gadgets go away at 10
    She can earn more screen time by doing something, anything that is out of the house, with friends, whatever

  4. I like your five snappy tips. Whilst my 12 year old tween is not so much into games, it is my 9 year old that has a strong love of technology. In our house we have 2 tech-free days a week (Tuesdays and Thursdays), which means no iPods, iPads, phones (other than taking a cellphone to school and back), TV, games etc. However weekends are our toughest times. With the eldest having crazy sporting days, often the 9 year old is left sitting on technology for hours – much longer than we had planned. We try to instil a 2 hours on, 2 hours off mantra but it is hard to police (we use the oven timer).
    What I like about your tips is the the sense of gaining bonus time for outdoor/sporting activities. And yes I agree about the marathon day – we all need a little time out from reality.

    1. It sounds like your house is very similar to ours, Jessica!

  5. Jenniemarie @ Another Housewife says:

    This blows my mind. We have the same EXACT rules. I have yet to meet anyone who has the extreme balance of no video games during school nights to the possibility of marathon gaming. Parents often ask “how” we get away with our limited use and my only answer is, “It is the rule in OUR house.”

    I will also say our kids are very active in sports. Therefore, when they are allowed to play for hours on weekends they most likely will be playing at one of their own games/practices and/or spectating at their siblings. Plus, my son (the only kid in the house who plays video games) does not have a television in his room. That means if he is going to play he will be occupying the main television and it’s not always available.

    AND #4 is why he always wants a play date after church at his best buds house!

  6. cassie kiger says:

    You are horrible horrible people. I bet you have never even played a video game in your entire miserable life. You will make your kid resent you. I guarentee it. What is this? The 1800’s? Video games have developed to a source of entertainment as common as any other. If your child is so stupid he can’t understand that he shouldn’t rush through his homwork then you have failed as parents. I hate to see the disaster of a dependent, non attributing to society, weird kid you are currently producing. Calm the hell down. I understand he shouldnt be missing school because hes playing video games. Thats common sense. But my god. Have fun being hitler. And have fun explaining why your son may be getting good grades but kills himself in a few years.

    1. Cassie,

      I am sorry that you are filled with such hate. I hope that one day you grow up and have a beautiful family of you own. Then you might possibly understand how awful your words to me really are.

      Feel free to never come to my blog again–nobody is forcing you to be here.


      1. Good for you, Becca. The rudeness of people never ceases to amaze me.

    2. I, personally, have only played pac man. Once. When I was 10? I don’t remember. Anyway, it was a long time ago, and I was not impressed. I have always found video games to be dreadfully mind-numbing. But that’s just me. Well after the Nintendo series had come out, my little brother happened upon an old school Atari. That was the ONLY gaming system we ever had in our house. Ever. He would play games at friends houses, and he was totally fine with that. Honestly, I don’t even remember him ever asking for a gaming system. All of my siblings and I are currently high functioning adults with careers (that is if you deem stay at home mom a career, because that’s me. And I sure as hell believe it is).

      By calling these parents ‘hitler’, you are implying that video games are a necessary part of a person’s childhood, and that to withhold that is akin to genocide. Hmm, that’s a little far-fetched to me. I can assure you, my siblings and I are all happy and healthy. I couldn’t possibly relate my lack of video game experience to a stint in a concentration camp (because, my dear, if you think a parent is like hitler for not allowing endless video gaming time, that’s exactly what you are saying).

      Ok, so I effectively crushed one of your ridiculously low and absurd jabs, let’s move on.

      Video games are certainly a new form of entertainment. How on earth does that make unlimited play healthy? Processed food has become a me normal too, and that stuffs crap. ‘Entertainment’ does not equal ‘good’. Strip clubs are entertaining. Let’s all go! (Oh wait, maybe not).

      Do you have children? I only ask because I really hope you don’t. Anyway, here’s the thing about children. They are immature. It’s why we call them children. It’s why children have parents or guardians. Children need to be guided and taken care of until they are mature enough to do it themselves. I can assure you that a 12 year old most certainly is not capable of doing that. Being an immature human (which does not mean bad or stupid at all), a child may not understand the consequences of a certain action. That’s why social media usage of Tweens/teens really needs to be monitored. They don’t understand the permanence of what they post online, nor do they understand the danger of posting identifying information (this is not a blanket statement – some children do, but many don’t). Thus, a child may not get the consequences of rushing through his homework. What he’s thinking about is the end goal – playing his game. He doesn’t have the experience to understand what not studying or completing homework assignments may mean. It has nothing to do with intelligence. It just means he still needs a parent around to set limits, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

      Lastly – the suggestion that not playing video games on school nights means he will commit suicide later on is absolutely insane, unfounded, and downright disgusting. Here’s the deal: video game addiction leads to hours and hours and hours spent sitting ALONE in front of a screen. Maybe you interact verbally with other players, maybe you don’t. Studies PROVE that this sort of reclusive behavior is more likely to lead to depression, which can then lead to suicide. A person needs social interaction to thrive. So, time not spent stuck in front of a screen can instead be spent around the dinner table with family, or maybe with friends on the weekends. Talking or playing basketball, or just something that is social. That is what makes healthy people. Not endless hours playing video games.

      Their children will not resent them for not being able to play video games all the time. In the moment, they may be disappointed. But in the future, they will be thankful.
      (FWIW I feel like they get A LOT of screen time, probably more than I would allow my kids. BUT, what on earth does that matter? They are THEIR children, not mine. Their kids, their house, their rules).

      I really hope you grow and mature and become a rational human being some day. In the meantime, I just feel really sorry for you.

      1. Stephanie says:

        Agreed 100%. My ex allows our 14 yo have free reign with devices so she’s chosen to live with him. When I try to implement rules, I am called names I will not publish here, all that imply I am “selfish” and “taking her friends away.” How are these kids supposed to handle reality when all they know is fantasy? Thank you for your candid and refreshing response – you’ve replenished my mama mojo!

    3. Limits are definitely necessary. And while kids may think that we as parents are out to “ruin their lives” (yes I have actually heard that come out of my teenagers mouth–then a few weeks later she came and apologized when one of her friends had to pay big consequences for doing what I told her not to do) someday they learn that we are doing our best. I have a kiddo now that we have to be firm with our techno rules, because left to his own free will every waking moment would be spent plugged in. In our structured rules we do allow periods of time that are open for him to decide how to spend his time, when video games are an option.

      So while we may not be the coolest people on the planet, my kids will learn moderation and to be responsible for themselves.

      Beyond that–if monitoring your children isn’t for you–then don’t do it. Maybe to you showing your kids that you love them is done by letting them do what they want, how they want. But there is no need to be hateful toward anyone else for the way they choose to show their children that they do love them. The world has far too much discord on its own we don’t need to add to it.

  7. Our rules are very similar for our 12 and 8 year olds. No games during the week, they can play all day on Saturday as long as their chores are done and they read first. Do they complain about it? Yes. But they are very good about understanding why. Both of my kids are straight A students and I want it to stay that way. As parents, we have to help our kids balance their lives.

    1. Andrea,

      I agree – they need to learn that balance. It sounds like you guys are on the right track with their grades being what they are! Good job, Mom ;)

  8. Love these ideas! Our tech time here has gotten out of hand. Time to set some boundaries. Thanks for the ideas! How do you handle FaceTime and imessaging (no phones here to text with, but he and his friends have ipads)? I consider facetime more like phone time than tech, and it is more self-limited here. I’d love your thoughts!

    1. Martha,
      We treat Facetime and Messaging like our old-school phone time :) Less strict on the limits, but it’s not a free-for-all1

  9. Cassie, simply put – YOU are the Hitler. Accusing someone of “crimes” and judging them in a random post is senseless, cruel, and quite frankly, ignorant. News flash – parents have the right to set the rules for their kids. If you don’t like it, ignore the post. Calling these parents “Hitler” and incinuating that their child will commit suicide because of their gaming rules is so ridiculous I almost didn’t respond to your insane comment. But your impact on this poor family forces me to call you out as what you are: a narrow minded, self-centered asshole who deserves all the bad karma the world has to give. Next time you see a post you don’t like – IGNORE it. You are ignorant!

  10. We have similar rules which are pretty easy during the school year. How do these rules change for you in the summer? I usually end up giving in, which makes it things hard when school resumes!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *