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There’s so much parenting guilt and anxiety around the subject of screen time. If you let your kids play video games as much as they want to, they may disappear into a virtual world, never to be seen again. If you set limits, you get to listen to endless negotiations for more screen time. 

You probably know from your own experience that digital gaming isn’t all bad: It can be a relaxing way to zone out, build skills, or spark your imagination. So how can you let your kids experience those benefits without fear of breaking their delicately wired little brains?

Dr. Alok Kanojia, psychiatrist and founder of the Healthy Gamer coaching program, had his own struggles with gaming as a young person, eventually dropping out of college and moving to an ashram. Eventually, he went back to college and medical school, and now he works with families to find the balance between the entertainment of playing games and the danger of gaming overtaking other pleasures and necessities in a child’s life. Kanojia recently wrote a book on the subject, How to Raise a Healthy Gamer: End Power Struggles, Break Bad Screen Habits, and Transform Your Relationship with Your Kids.

He shared some warning signs of unhealthy gaming and tips for parents to promote a good gaming relationship.

Spot the red flags of unhealthy gaming

You might be wondering if your child’s gaming habits amount to an “addiction”—a frightening label for any parent to grapple with. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter and is not necessarily helpful to label it as an addiction or not. If it’s causing a problem, then it is a problem,” Kanojia says.

These are the signs that gaming might be causing a problem for your child:

  • Neglecting other activities or responsibilities in favor of gaming

  • Isolation from friends and family in favor of gaming

  • Sleeping too much or not enough

  • Neglecting hygiene

  • Not enjoying things they used to enjoy

  • Lying about gaming

  • Increased irritability or moodiness when not gaming

  • Trouble interacting with people or participating in class

  • Overspending on games

“Remember, these are indicators, not absolutes, and open communication is key to understanding the underlying reasons and seeking help if needed,” Kanojia says.

Top tips for raising healthy gamers

Whether you’ve recognized signs of a gaming problem or you are hoping to prevent one, Kanojia has pointers for parents to keep gaming habits healthy.

  • Keep communication about video games open. 

    • Talk openly about gaming, like your experience with video games, what games they are curious about, what they like about them.

    • Set clear expectations about when and where gaming is allowed, and what games are acceptable.

    • Listen actively, reflecting and affirming what you hear, asking questions for clarity.

    • Avoid shaming. Try to understand what they enjoy about gaming rather than judging or dismissing.

  • Prioritize balance and other activities. 

    • Encourage diverse interests in other media, hobbies, books, physical activities, socializing, or community engagement.

    • Set realistic screen time limits. 

    • Set aside family time without screens. 

    • Lead by example with your own healthy tech habits.

  • Build trust and collaboration with your gaming kid. 

    • Involve your child in creating gaming rules. Offer your ideas and ask for their suggestions. If you clearly communicate your concerns while they clearly communicate their desires, you can more easily find a solution that suits everyone.

    • Offer alternatives to fulfill their needs. Understanding what your child gets out of gaming will help you brainstorm other activities that can scratch the same itch.

    • Seek professional help if needed. A third party like a therapist may be able to guide both of you toward a healthy solution.

  • Get everyone on the same page. Expectations should be clearly defined and communicated, including boundaries around gaming time, content, and in-game purchases.

“Build trust and collaboration by working together on solutions, offering alternatives, and celebrating their progress,” Kanojia says.

Age-by-age tips for healthy gaming

Kids’ brains and abilities change so much throughout childhood. Your approach to gaming will change too. Kanojia shared some tips for handling video games for children at different ages.

Elementary school

This is likely when children will first be exposed to games unless they’ve been watching you play since birth (no shade). Here’s how to get them started on the right foot:

  • Make sure the games they explore are age-appropriate.

  • Stick to short, supervised gaming sessions.

  • Encourage active play.

  • Talk to kids openly about online safety.


Kids in their tweens are savvy about devices and are probably getting interested in playing games they learn about from friends. Here’s how to help them explore:

  • Supervise while they venture into different games and genres.

  • Negotiate and agree on appropriate screen time.

  • Encourage social gaming while emphasizing safety.

  • Monitor their online behavior.


They are on the threshold of adulthood, so teens need to practice independence with the safety and support of actual adults behind them. Here’s how to help them be healthy independent gamers:

  • Respect their autonomy. You’ve been openly communicating about what they want from gaming and what your expectations are. This is where they test the waters and apply your guidance in their decisions.

  • Discuss responsible choices. Gaming all night before a final or gaming to let off steam after the final? Help them see the difference between a choice that is in their best interest and one that is not.

  • Promote responsible communication and positive online interactions.

  • Offer support and guidance.

“Remember, these are general guidelines,” Kanojia says. “Adapt them to your child’s individual needs and maturity level. By focusing on communication, balance, and trust, you can help your child navigate the world of gaming in a healthy and enriching way.”

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