Knowing When To Stop

Knowing When to Stop Eating Pizza and Playing Games 1 400x300 - Knowing When To Stop

Whether it’s pizza or video games, we all need to know when to stop.

I heard myself utter that simple declaration one day. It sounded so obvious. But a child doesn’t see it as obvious. A child doesn’t typically stop something they consider fun until they are worn out or some force compels them to stop. Have you often seen a child worn out from playing video games? Me neither.

But that day a clarifying notion took root in my mind: Playing video games involves knowing when to stop.  Just like eating requires knowing when to stop. And spending money requires knowing when to stop. And talking requires knowing when to stop. So many activities in which we engage involve knowing when to stop.

Does your child know when to stop playing video games?

When to Stop Playing Video Games

Stopping an activity well is a life skill worth learning and practicing intentionally. Finishing anything well helps to make life more pleasant. Transitions matter. Gaming is a great way to teach moderation, self-discipline, and the skill of the graceful finish.

So, when is it time to stop playing Roblox, Super Mario, Warcraft, or any other video game?

Consider these analogies. A satisfying meal usually involves putting our fork down before feeling too full. The best purchase is one made within our budget, recalled without guilt. The best conversation occurs when we yield conversational space and learn something unexpected. We can teach our child that the best gaming is when we enjoy it for a time—and then choose to be satisfied for now, moving on to other pleasures or responsibilities. Teach—and model—the virtue of self-discipline. Teaching him to be discerning about time spent on video games  is vital because games offer “a comforting mix of structure, repetition, challenge, and adventure” that can make it difficult to stop.[1]

Yelling at your kids to stop is not a way to help them learn the art of finishing well.

God gave us a Spirit of self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7).  Help your child to use and develop it. We can do it through Him who gives us strength (Phil 4:13); your child needs to know that. Being responsible enough to play means being responsible enough to know when to stop. All freedoms have inherent obligations.

Biblical Moderation and Self-Discipline

You may reasonably expect your child to master this type of transition (just like you expect him to master independently getting out of bed and ready for school). After all, you allow him the freedom to play video games—in your home, on technology you provide.  Feel confident in setting an expectation about when to stop playing video games. Remind him matter-of-factly about his concomitant obligation. Point him to a biblical value you know he could understand rather than using your position power.

You might consider looking up Bible verses relevant to moderation and self-discipline (which is, after all, a fruit of the Spirit) and prepare to recite or paraphrase them in a way your child will understand. Ephesians reminds him, for example, to be careful how he lives (Eph 5:15). There is a right time for everything (Ecc 3:1), a time we need God to lead us to productive pursuits (Ps 90:17), and a path that leads to discipline (Prov 10:17). Help your child make the connection between how he spends his time and the way the Bible cautions us to spend our time.

I submit that yelling at your child to stop a video game is not a way to help him learn the art of finishing well. He becomes a passive player in that drama. It brings uncomfortable relational static. It will derail his thinking about the next thing he might want to do—or should do.

A Conversational Path to Guide Him

Use a variation of this format to help your child leave his video game behind.

  • Note how much he has already played, in a way that reflects “Isn’t it great you had all that time?”
  • Acknowledge the fun you heard him having.
  • Debrief about his experience (one question is enough, such as “What was the best thing you built on Roblox today?”).
  • Encourage him to acknowledge his gratitude for having been able to play—for the downtime, the friend time, for freedom.
  • Discuss the next time playing may resume. Or how his next online period will fit into his homework schedule.
  • Ask him what he plans to do next; discuss options or present some he hasn’t considered.
  • Help him to get started on the “next thing” until he is more effective at emotionally transitioning away from gaming.
  • Notice when he completes the “next thing” and acknowledge its value or his success with it.

Your exchange might sound like this:  “You sure got a long time to play this afternoon. It sounded like you and Jacob were creating something complex. What was it like? Well, I hope you enjoyed hanging online today. Is there any homework or project that might derail you from getting back online tomorrow? OK, so why don’t you take out that recycling bin before you decide what you’re doing next.”

Again, vary it for your child and the occasion. Not every situation requires each point. Add or delete in a way that serves your child’s personality and maturity. As he practices the skill of ending well, he will require less of this training.

Be aware: Many online games don’t have a natural end like Scrabble® or checkers do; be sensitive to that. Games not programmed to have an actual end make it more difficult to find a natural stopping point.  You can negotiate that aspect of ending well.

God is not a killjoy. He wants good things for us. He encourages a balance of work and rest. Just as He prescribes healthy limits, you can know that you are right in doing the same. You are not in this alone.

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[1] Adam Thomas, “Digital Disciple: Real Christianity in a Virtual World” (2011), 44.