Why I Pulled the Plug on My Son’s Gaming

limiting screen time for kids

My son’s gaming was getting excessive. So I made my eight-year-old son go cold turkey on tech. I know it sounds crazy, even as I type the words. What prompted me to take such drastic action?

Before I get to the reasons, a disclaimer: I have not banned all screen time. (My son can still do the odd bit of coding on Scratch and watch some TV because it doesn’t seem to have the same impact on him). So I may be mean, but I’m not that mean.

Like all parents, I have long held a love-hate relationship with iPads and other gaming. On one hand, I know that tech is so necessary and invaluable for this generation (hello future career!) yet on the other, I don’t like what it does to my otherwise lovable son. And for that matter, I don’t like what it does to his otherwise lovable mom.

Over the past few years, I’ve tried adhering to a strict schedule. I’ve set the kitchen timer and given warnings. I’ve tried to claim that I’m limiting screen time. I’ve tried restricting or removing certain apps that proved problematic. To no avail.

Ultimately I resorted to using the tablet as ammo to motivate my son to [clean up/ have a good day/you name it]. Sometimes it worked, and he did my bidding. But most of the time I wound up hating myself for using Super Mario as a bribe. Parenting fail 101.

Eventually, I grew so tired of the haranguing, the constant nagging, whining, and battling. “Five more minutes” stretched into fifteen, which grew into fifty minutes. Enough.

What if, I said to hubby one night, we take them away—the Wii, the iPad—not just for the day, but permanently? Are you sure, he asked. I nodded, knowing that since I was at home with our son that week I would bear the brunt of this epic parenting decision. Truthfully, I wasn’t totally sure. (Disclaimer #2: I’m never 100% unequivocally sure of any parenting decision I make. Who is?) But it was worth a shot. My son’s gaming seemed to be bringing out the worst in him, and the next day I told him so.

Because it’s my job to look after you and keep you healthy, I said, you cannot have Super Mario anymore. Or your tablet. Not during the week. Not on the weekend. Not. At. All. It’s not a punishment. You just can’t handle it. Of course, he begged, pleaded, cajoled with promises to do better. But we’d been there so many times before.

This is what you do for an addict, even if he’s eight years old. It’s called tough love.

Stay strong, I told myself. The first few days would be the hardest. Mean mom. Cruella DeVille. You are taking away something he loves. On the surface having the tablet helps him unwind after a long day at school. But over time I’ve realized the reverse is in fact true. At least in my son’s case.

Gaming frustrates and overstimulates him to an extent that he simply cannot cope. I’d go so far as to say it’s destructive, unhealthy. Other kids may be better at handling their tech, and other parents may have struck a balance that works for them. Terrific!

I wouldn’t go so far as this viral blog and suggest that we are “ruining” our children. Yet I’m sure there are plenty of kids out there like my son who gets way more screen time than they probably should, and they are suffering for it.

In our house, the impact of no tablet was huge and immediate. After my son realized I wasn’t going to cave, he did an amazing thing. He started drawing more—he created an imaginary world, complete with his own creatures and a portal to our house! He found ways to occupy himself. He made up games and *gasp* rediscovered the overflowing toy cupboard that he has hardly touched in months. We enjoyed time together and laughed more than we had in a while.

Before I pulled the plug, he wasn’t interested in doing much besides gaming. And it was easy for me to let him have that extra 10-15 minutes because it meant I could finally put away that load of laundry or check Facebook again…

Part of me panicked. After all, wasn’t I just as addicted as him? I made a point to put my phone down more. If he could do it, then I could too. So what if he got bored? I didn’t need to plan out his day with military precision, but I did need to make myself available and give him my full attention sometimes. While he watched a TV show, I squeezed in some work. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t the end of the world either.

It’s still early days, and I wish I could say that he has stopped mentioning Mario (he hasn’t) but fortunately, my resolve hasn’t wavered because I can see the difference it makes in him.

Like all parents, I’m trying to do what’s best for my son and for our family—and right now that means pulling the plug.



  1. Leah on July 27, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    I did the EXACT same thing in my house two weeks ago. It has been wonderful to break the addiction. My 9 year old still asks every few days if she can have it back, but other than that it has been so much better.

    • Heather Dixon on July 29, 2017 at 8:27 am

      Awesome! You (and the author, Julie) are giving me the push I need to try it in my house! 🙂

  2. Julie Cole on February 21, 2018 at 5:16 pm

    Kids on spectrum and screens are definitely a whole other issue. It was like crack to my guy with ASD at that age….But, now as a teenager, he manages it much better.

    • Heather Dixon on February 22, 2018 at 7:15 am

      That’s good to hear! Thanks for the comment, Julie! 🙂

  3. Robin Bell on December 11, 2019 at 1:58 am

    Julia, I agree that some kids (not all) get very addicted to their tech and it changes their personality and desire to do anything else. My problem with my 13 yr old is that so much of their homework now is required to be done on the computer and unless I hover over him 100% he switched immediately to his game or You Tube even though I have tried to block them using various apps….kids easily figure out ways around…they google…ways to hack around ….game or block or whatever…
    What are peoples suggestions around limiting game time when they need to be on the computer for homework and cannot separate one from the other?

  4. Michele Maycock on December 13, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    Sooooo proud of you Julie to make the hard, but ultimately beneficial decision to take away tech for your 8 year old son. The most interesting and inspirational part is that he FOUND other, healthy ways to engage with himself; ways that will develop his brain in different directions than the addiction to technology would. Bravo Mama! I hope your brave action will be a pebble in the pond of parenting, sending concentric positive behavioural waves out into our communities, and ultimately society!

Leave a Comment