Helping Children Share

Willa Ryan wrote:
I wonder if it would be helpful to work in a looser time frame with the computer games? Take turns by "morning" and "afternoon" say, rather than hourly with a timer?
Pam Sorooshian:
Ask the kids. Give them ideas.

My kids, over the years, came up with different ways of handling this. Some were complicated - but they all knew what their deal was. When my kids were younger, Sandra's family's method never seemed fair to them - they thought it wasn't fair that whichever kid got to the computer first could stay on it for hours and hours. They came up with a system where they kept a kitchen timer near the computer. If someone wanted to use it, they'd come and set the timer for an hour. When the timer went off, it was the next person's turn. Nobody ever had less than a one-hour warning and nobody ever had to wait more than an hour. The timer being set meant no arguing about when the timing started.

Pretty often, the first person would get off the computer early and call the other person to take over. Occasionally the first person wouldn't be finished in an hour and they'd negotiate to stay on - usually the second person would just say, "Okay, set the timer for another hour. Sometimes, they'd insist and the first person would comply, unhappily.

But that was just one of the ways it was handled, over the years. Mostly we just tried to work it out based on who was available when. I have to admit we didn't ever have the issue of a 7 year old and a 4 year old trying to work this out — hard to believe, but computers were simply NOT as a big a draw, then. The games must have not been quite as enticing and engaging, I guess.


photo by Will Geusz


I liked Pam's family's one-hour-timer "dibs" system. It seems useful.

We didn't have problems with our unlimited turns, but it's because nobody ever played longer than he really wanted to just to keep another kid from getting on. Not even nearly. If Kirby knew he wanted to play for a really long time, he would offer Marty a turn, knowing Marty couldn't last so long. Sometimes I would appeal to one of them to trade out, but it was for real reasons every single time. "Kirby has to go to karate, so can he go now and you can play all the time he's gone?" or "Holly's pretty sleepy anyway, and wanted to play Zoombinis. Can she have her turn soon?"

As with so many other things (every other thing, maybe) in our lives, though, it wasn't that single slice that "worked," it was the whole set of everything. They trusted me because I had spent years being trustworthy. They knew there was no secret agenda, and that I really did want them to all have fun things to do, and that they WOULD get to be on the computer uninterrupted, soon.


Someone wrote another pass on this in February 2011:
My issue with this in our family is that my 8 year old is much better at negotiating than my 4 year old. So, many times, he's able to negotiate himself into playing much longer and my 4 year old is left still waiting. My 4 year old has a shorter attention span and harder time waiting so, the longer he has to wait, the harder it gets for him. It doesn't seem fair to him. I am concerned that my 4 year old is being manipulated.
My response (Sandra's):
Then let the four year old play as long as he wants to. He's not going to play that long. He has a shorter attention span.

But in no case should the one who's waiting be right there, doing nothing but waiting and bugging the other player. Get them off doing something else, being happy elsewhere instead of waiting right there.

The problem I see with measured turns is that the quality of game play is compromised. If someone sees the clock and that's when they have to stop, they won't play as thoughtfully. They're less likely to look around at the art or appreciate the music. If they're starting to read, they're less likely to take a moment to look at the text and see if they can tell what it says.

The benefits of game play will not come to full fruition if kids' time is measured that way, and they're not learning to share.

If they only have an hour, they will take ALL of that hour, just as kids whose TV time is limited will.

It they can play as long as they want to, they might play for five or ten minutes and be done. I've seen it in Holly, I saw it for half an hour in Marty.

Yes, Kirby wanted it more. He was older and it was his game system and he could play better. And so in exchange for me keeping the other kids away while Kirby was playing as long as he wanted to, he let them play as long as they wanted to, which was never as long as he did.

In an attempt to "be fair," parents can be very UNfair. Children don't all need the same things for the same amount of time. Measuring with rulers and timers and charts is often shortchanging one child or another. What they could use more than that is the opportunity to decide when they're finished for their own reasons.

"Economics of Restricting TV Watching of Children" applies to time on computers, too. I don't know why Pam recommended timing computer use, but I put her recommendation on my page anyway even though I objected every time she used it. 🙂

photos by Sandra Dodd and Cátia Maciel


When kids fight

Parenting Peacefully


Video Games


Shared Experiences are Important
(parents and kids' sharing)