(This 31st August story corrected a spelling error in paragraph 4)
By Helen Coster
(Reuters) – Raleigh Smith Duttweiler was folding laundry in her Ohio home, her three children playing the video game Minecraft upstairs, when she heard an NPR story about new rules in China that forbid teenagers and children under age 18 from playing video games for more than three hours a week.
“Oh, that’s an idea,” Duttweiler, who works in public relations at a nonprofit, recalls thinking. “My American gut instinct: This is sort of an infringement on rights and you don’t get to tell us what to do inside of our own homes.
“On the other hand, it’s not particularly good for kids to play as much as even my own children play. And I do think it would be a lot easier to turn it off if it wasn’t just arguing with Mommy, but actually saying ‘Well, the police said so.'”
For Duttweiler and many families outside of China, Monday’s news of the country’s strict social intervention – which regulators said was needed to stop a growing addiction to what it once described as “spiritual opium” – underscores a challenge to rein in video game use in their own homes, particularly during the pandemic.
China’s regulator said the new rules were a response to growing concern that games affected the physical and mental health of children, a fear echoed by parents and experts in the United States.
Paul Morgan, a father of two teenagers and Penn State professor who studies electronic device use, sees flaws in the ban while acknowledging the challenge of controlling children’s screen time. “These electronic devices are ubiquitous,” Morgan said. “It’s really hard to get kids away from them.”
Yet Morgan says negative associations with screen time are particularly evident for heavy users, possibly due to displacing activities like exercise or sleep. The ban doesn’t address social media use, which is thought to be especially harmful for girls. And some populations, such as students with disabilities, may benefit from the social interactions provided by video games.
Shira Weiss, a New Jersey-based publicist for technology clients including a video game company, sees value in the games that help keep her twin 12-year-old sons connected to their peers, but wants to better limit how often they play the more violent games.
“I think the Chinese rules are good,” Weiss said. “You’re still saying ‘Play video games,’ but you’re just setting limits.” She added, partially joking: “Can they come here and impose that restriction on my house?”
Michael Gural-Maiello, who works in business development at an engineering firm and has an 11-year-old son, believes parents should be the ones regulating their children’s video game use.
“I don’t think governments really have a place in telling parents how their children should be spending their time,” Gural-Maiello said. “China has a rotten record in technology in general. I’d be far more worried about my son using apps that originate in China that collect data than I am about him playing Mario Kart.”
(Reporting by Helen Coster in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler)