Last week was the kid’s Spring Break, which I approached with a little excitement, a little “eh, whatever”, and, I’ll be honest, a little apprehension. A week with no school, no structure, and my fear was that it would turn into a battle about video game and tv time, non-stop.
Now, we’re pretty liberal in our approach to tv & video game time. The general way we handle it is: homework before video games, when we say it’s time to stop it’s time to stop, but mostly–when he starts being a butt about tv & video games, it’s time to limit them. Sometimes the limiting comes from time limits, sometimes it comes from limits on specific shows/games, it really just depends on WHAT he’s reacting to.
BUT, I did NOT want to deal with a full week of begging for video games and tv all the time. It’s a school break, he can totally play, but I figured we needed SOME kind of structure for the day that would also help limit the “Mommy can I play video games yet?” question.
So I came up with a little experiment.
I’ve seen a lot of the Summer Screen Time Rules type blog posts over the years, and I’ll be honest, they’re usually way more complicated than we’ll keep up with. I *know* this about us–even with the best intentions, if something is too complicated, we’ll keep it up for a few days, maybe, before it falls by the wayside. So I wanted something simple, and easy for all of us to follow.
This is what I came up with.
Every day, J got a card that said:
- Nice Behavior
There were boxes to put a little sticker for each item (boy loves checking off checklists, stickers, completing things, so I totally played that up). Before he could even ask about playing video games or watching tv, he had to have a sticker for each box.
The colored sheets gave options for each item.
For Read, he could read 15 minutes of chapter books or 30 minutes of non-chapter books/magazines/comics. He had to do 2 reading sessions per day.
For Learn, he could do 15 minutes of math worksheets (we have some he likes doing), or he could do 30 minutes of any of his homework/math website games (Lexia, Dreambox, Prodigy). (Now, this is totally a bit of a work around in his mind to the video game problem, because the computer games are GAMES to him. But I don’t particularly care, because they’re also math and reading. Yes it’s a bit of a cheat, but whatever, I’ll take it).
For Make, he could build something (legos, blocks, forts, etc.), color or draw, make Qixels, etc.
For Play, he could do any number of things, but it had to be at least an hour: play with friends, ride his bike or scooter, play pretend, do sports, etc.
And Nice Behavior had to be the last sticker, given my Mommy or Daddy, and only if (duh) he’d had Nice Behavior all day long.
Once he had ALL his stickers, he could play video games or watch tv *almost* as much as he wanted.
The only other rule was that every day was a new day–so no carrying over from the day before. Meaning, if he read chapter books for an hour the day before, it didn’t count as 30 min for day 1 and 3o min for day 2. It was just extra reading.
Overall, it was a fairly resounding success. Every single day, he did all those things. I believe only 1 day did he ask if he could play video games before he completed all the tasks. No days did he come into our bedroom at 7 am and whisper yell “MOMMY CAN I PLAY VIDEO GAMES?” which he usually does on weekends prior to this. Every day, I came upstairs and he had already started and/or completed some of the tasks, without being asked. AND, over the weekend (which I had not originally intended to be part of the experiment), he not only asked where his lists were, he was overheard telling a friend, “Oh, I can’t do that yet, I still have to make and learn today.”
Now, there are some things that didn’t work as well that I’ll change going forward (oh, yeah, we’re planning on trying to keep this up for weekends some, and will definitely bust it out over summer break). The first and main one is that I should have put more guidelines on the Make stuff–in particular, it needs more time. One day he wrote a poem and drew a picture…in about 5 minutes. Buuuuut, I didn’t specify, and he DID make something, so everyone agreed it counted. Another day, he built a lego “ship” but again, it took about 5 minutes and then he was done. So. I need to come up with some guidelines on time and/or complexity level.
Another thing I will do going forward is put more ideas for play and make. I forgot that my kid tends to think that a list is the be-all-end-all, while I meant for those two to be more…examples. So, ok, accounting for my kid’s personality, I need to put some more options for those. I’m also considering whether to split play into inside/outside lists, so have one list that’s play pretend, play board games, play cards, etc. and one list that’s play sports, go swimming, ride bikes, etc.
The last thing I’ll do is have clearer instructions for what happens with friends. A few days Jackson had play dates, and he was very worried about “what if they want to watch tv, but I haven’t done all my checks?” And honestly, I don’t want to dictate at THAT level, particularly not at someone else’s house. So I want to come up with guidelines for those instances.
But overall, the whole experiment was a success: he got some structure, was incentivized to do a bunch of non-screen stuff (homework computer games notwithstanding), took ownership of it all, AND, best of all, we had NONE fights about CAN I PLAY VIDEO GAMES?
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