I want to do a lot of activities with my 8-year old son but he seems to prefer to play computer games (on his DS, his PC or my phone) for most of the time. How can I prevent him from spending too much time on this activity, without making him feel uncomfortable?
You should definitely focus on providing better alternatives. Think about activities involving whole family, like playing boardgames, hiking, some sports, etc.
Also what kind of computer games does he play? Try to show him strategy games, like Starcraft, Civilization, Total War series (if he's old enough), or quality puzzle games, like World of Goo, Cogs, Crazy machines.
Restricting measures, like limiting time spent playing computer games, are OK to some extent. But these measures should be supplementary. Making them largest component of your strategy will likely result to alienation, more conflict etc.
I would take another approach, and ask what's the underlying problem that you're trying to solve? That is, why is playing video games a problem? Is it the lack of other physical activities? Is it a concern that they could be learning rather than playing? Is it a concern about the lack of socialization?
I was definitely into video games in a big way as a kid. The best alternative my parents seemed to come up with was (a) putting a limit on the time per day for certain activities (b) providing either chores or equally entertaining, enriching alternatives during leisure time, or (c) changing video games into a reward, so it doesn't feel like a restriction (e.g. "You can play your games, but only after you finish mowing the lawn). In these cases I made sure to do a quick, but thorough job of mowing the lawn in order to get the reward.
If your strategy has been simply to try to forbid it, without an alternative, I think you'll find that you'll just get a bunch of questions about "why" video games are bad, or similar lines of questioning, which lead you to a discussion that really doesn't hit the point.
One strategy is to stop buying your child computer games, at least for a while. Once he has completed the games he has, he'll be more open to doing something else, since he has exhausted the games. This is one reason to pre-select which games your child plays as some can be played 'infinitely' (e.g. Farmville) since there isn't necessarily an end.
To fill the void left by the computer games, you will need to have already found a number of new activities that are as engaging, flexible (portable, not constrained by time) and fun as the games. This is not going to be easy - computer games are hugely addictive and engaging for children, so it needs some though:
- if it's raining/windy/cold/dark, then you can't go to an outdoor activity, (but could saty indoors play computer games...), so we need a number of indoor activities. The local sports centre may offer some things - we have an amazing climbing centre in London which is just awesome. You already mentioned museums, but there's also exhibitions, art and craft centres. These are all a family commitment, (he likely can't get there by himself), so can't be every weekend.
- Music is portable and engaging (like computer games). I filled up an old iPod Mini with a ton of random music and asked my nephew to find which tunes he liked. This kept him busy for quite some time, although it came with a ton of feedback for my taste in music :-)
- My friend's son and my 2nd nephew are both into model making of the Warhammer type. The local branch of Games Workshop does group sessions every Saturday morning where you take your collection of models and either play the game with them or paint then.
- Physical activity such as swimming, cycling, requires some commitment but it's pretty engaging and the achievements that can be had - swimming badges, cycling records - can raise a childs' self-esteem too.
I'm afraid there's no easy answer to changing your childs' activities quickly and easily, so this is going to take some experimentation and potential upset before you find a good solution.
We limit video game time to the weekends (Fri/Sat/Sun). Even so, it was still hard to get our kids to put the controllers down/limit the hours they spent on those days.
I recently instituted a system of rewards so my kids can earn credits they can redeem for Wii time. They can earn one Wii buck for helping around the house during the week, complying with special requests, etc. Each Wii buck is worth 30 minutes of play and they can only earn 4 Wii bucks for each weekend day.
A nice byproduct of this is that they're starting to learn budgeting (they don't want to blow all their Wii bucks in the first 2 hours of the day), and I have a good way to incent them to do things they are reluctant to do during the week. It's a lot easier for them to understand "you only have 2 Wii bucks left" than "you've already played for an hour and forty-five minutes so you only have fifteen minutes left."
There is a similar discussion on this thread, and I think you may find the answers useful. In particular, I would reiterate the power of books. They have the power to spark the imagination as much as any video game.
Often the challenge is finding a book that is at your child's level and matches their interests. If they're not into reading, they will definitely need some help with this. You can't simply say "go read a book", nor can you just pick a random book from the children's section of the library. Forcing them to read a book in which they have no interest will be counter-productive. Alternatively, helping them find a book that sparks their imagination will give them an appreciation for reading and maybe even open them up to different kinds of books in the future.
Before I was a parent, I was an avid gamer. My oldest son is now 4, and I find his lack of interest and skill in playing video games actually rather a lot disturbing. I try to engage him in a few simple, age-appropriate two-player cooperative games (Like Bubble Bobble. Remember that? No, of course you don't. Little Big Planet is a more modern example), but after a short while he loses interest, and part of that seems to be a lack of hand-eye coordination. He's more or less starting to learn to use the PS2's joysticks, but can only manage one of "jump" or "shoot" at any given moment. Even so, this is typically how we spend Sunday mornings after breakfast. It's time spent together.
Which coincidentally, can be exactly one way of "dealing" with this "problem"; Gaming time can be family time and time with friends where socialization is taught, as well as cooperation and teamwork.
That said, as others have asked "so what exactly is the real problem here?" If the answer is "he gets none of his homework or chores done", then the real problem is motivation. You've already found the means to motivate him, now it's just a matter of using that motivation to get work done. This should be the line of reasoning every time you find yourself saying "All he ever cares about is X". Would you be upset if he was spending "too much" time doing math problems? Or if he was constantly obsessed with the bond market?
Video games might seem useless to you, but my obsession with gaming and computers turned into a career as a Systems Administrator for an ISP.
The simplest way to stop your child from playing computer games is take the computer away from them.
Now this does not eliminate your responsibility to your child to help them find things to do while they are young. My daughter only spends a couple of hours a week on the computer. The rest of the time is spend with the family. We do things together, go to the park, read; things like that.
I dont think kids under the age of 10 should have a computer in their room. My children are young so that may change as they grow older.
Get a good parental control software, or a Mac, where those things are built in. You can specify "max hours of usage" on a school day, or weekend, and also bound those hours in a time window (e.g. 9am - 7pm).
This is a good way to limit the usage without having to "work" as a hall monitor. Your kids should not have administrative access to their computers. You should have that privilege.