Manage: Screen Allowance

"L" with one of his Screen Allowance Coins
 Written by: Katrina from Callapidder Days

My tween has never been particularly enthralled by screens. Oh, don’t get me wrong — he watches some TV and plays a couple video games. But I’ve never had to convince him to step away from the screen. He’ll use a screen for a little while, but then head outside or pick up a book.

My four-year-old, on the other hand, would sit and stare at screens all day long if I let him. There are a few DVDs and TV shows he likes, but what he really loves to do is use the computer and play games on my iPod touch. It seems the requests are endless. “Mom, can I use the computer? Can I use your iPod? Can I watch a DVD?”

For a long time, I did my best to monitor and restrict his screen usage on my own. I’d glance at the clock and estimate how long he’d been staring at the computer. I’d announce “Screen Breaks.” I’d shoo him outside. And he would listen, but it was often a struggle. There was whining, there was begging, and there was scowling.

A few weeks ago, I decided to try something new: Screen Allowance. Here’s how it works.

Every day, I give my preschooler some coins (we have some large, plastic, gold “treasure” coins that work perfectly). Throughout the day, whenever he wants to use a screen — of any kind — he has to turn in a coin. When he does, I set the timer and he can use the screen of his choice until the timer beeps.

At that point, he can turn in another coin to continue playing, or he can (and often does) choose to do something else for a while.

Usually, the coins are worth 30 minutes each. However, I’ve been known to add a little extra time if he’s doing something I consider educational or creative, as opposed to staring blankly at a TV show.

When the coins for that day are gone, that’s it. No more screen time that day.

We definitely experienced an adjustment period. It took a while for my son to realize that when he used up all the coins, he was done with screens. No more coins magically appeared for his use.

But now that we’ve been using Screen Allowance for a few weeks, he’s getting the hang of it. When he sees that there is only one coin left, he thinks twice about using it right away, realizing that it might be best to save it for later.

Some advantages to the Screen Allowance approach:
  • It puts more of the decision-making in the child’s hands. For the most part, he can decide when he wants to use the coins, and how quickly he wants to use them. He’s learning to evaluate his options and choose which activity he wants to do now and what he wants to save for later.
  • It provides natural breaking points. When the beeper goes off, my son is often ready to switch to a different activity. Rather than having me announce a screen break and dealing with the ensuing drama, he listens for the beeper. When it goes off, it feels natural to do something else for a while — Legos, bike-riding, and reading are his usual picks.
  • It teaches him the concept of budgeting. It didn’t take my son long to realize that if he used all his coins before lunch, he was really out of luck that evening when he wanted to play a game on my iPod. Now, if he’s used a couple coins in the morning, we talk about how it would be a good idea to save some for the afternoon or evening. More often than not, he quickly agrees.
  • Mom’s not the bad guy! Instead of me putting an end to screen time, our handy kitchen timer does the dirty work for me. While we feel strongly that the parents are the authority in the home, and that kids need to obey, we also see the value in avoiding battles by implementing systems. Just like he starts getting ready for bed when the clock says 7:15, he puts aside screens when the beeper goes off.
  • It’s flexible.You can modify the Screen Allowance system to work for you. Coins (or whatever “currency” you choose to use) can be worth whatever amount of time you deem appropriate, and you can distribute as many coins as you want, up to the limit that you, as a parent, have determined makes sense for your child.
We don’t use the system perfectly. Earlier this week, I was sick and while I spent the entire morning on the couch with my eyes closed, my son went over his screen allowance for the day. (As I’m sure you can imagine, he didn’t complain one bit about that!) But these things happen, and we just got back on track the next day.

I know “screen time” can become an even bigger issue as kids get older. By having a system in place now, we will be ready to modify it as needed to keep battles to a minimum and to help our son continue to make wise decisions about using the computer, TV, and video games as he grows.


Bev said...

Katrina, this is such a good idea, and you're right - it can be used in so many ways. Leslie won't remember, but she was a social butterfly when she was about 10 years old. She literally wanted to spend the night or have someone over to spend the night almost every single night. We finally told her she could have 52 sleepovers per year - that averaged out to 1 per week, but when she realized she'd gone through about 25 in not very long, she had to slow down and think about how to use her sleepover tokens. Those first few weeks while she was learning about drove us nuts, but when she learned to budget them it was much more pleasant - great sharing!

Bev said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FunMom said...

I LOVE this idea...I was so excited to get it posted for everyone else to read too! We're definitely going to use it. Brilliant! Thanks for sharing, Katrina! :)

And, Mom, I do actually remember the Sleepover Budget System. At the time I thought 52 was a cruel I can't believe that you put up with that many! See, you were SUCH a funmom!! :)

Ronnica said...

I know some people who did this not only for the kids, but for the adults. As their kids were older, they actually did it on a weekly basis. I can imagine it's humbling to realize you've already spent your 12 hours of free Internet time (or however long) that week!

Sarah said...

I love this idea! We have a reel of tickets; those would work well for this. This principle can be applied to many other things, too--sleeping on the top bunk, eating sweets, etc. I'm going to have to see where we can use this idea in our home :)

MommaRu said...

love the idea of this


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