It is probably not surprising to learn that we spend a lot of time at home. Of course we spend a good portion of the day doing school, but one of the perks of homeschooling is that it doesn’t take as long as traditional school, so we are usually done around lunchtime. Often the kids would fill their time in the afternoons in front of the TV or computer.
We were tired of telling them to turn off the television. As important as we thought it was to do something beside veg out in front of electronics, as soon as we suggested an alternative, we became the “bad guys”. It is more fun to watch Ruff Ruffman than practice piano and we were spoiling the fun.
In order to combat their default position on the couch, last week we instituted “Screen Time Tokens”. On Sunday, we handed out plastic tokens to each child and explained our new system. Each token was good for 30 minutes of screen time – television, computer, Wii, or DS. They could spend their tokens whenever they want, but once they were gone, they would not be renewed until the following Sunday. Tokens do not roll over from week to week (we feared our “saver” would at some point cash in 32 and ask to watch 16 straight hours of the Disney Channel), and they are free to partake in the screen time of their sibling.
We also reserve the right to call a “Family Night” where we play games or watch a movie without charging their accounts. Additionally, we can reward acts of kindness or generosity with more tokens or take them away for disobedience.
In the first week, the boy had blown through half of his by Monday. His sister, though, saved a majority of hers for the end of the week. Both of them used some of their new-found free time to help me around the house without being asked (for which they were rewarded with another token), and Luke read five books in the time he wasn’t in front of the TV.
I’m sure that we are probably the only parents who have faced the need to pull the kids away from the screen, but I am thrilled at our new system. We are no longer the bad guys – they determine whether or not to watch based on their current account. We have given them the power to make the decisions and choices that they need to make, and they are thriving with this freedom.