Kids and Media

Media is so incredibly accessible to today’s family. My Kindergartner can practice reading on the internet. Redbox makes movie nights so easy. Wii tournaments are a blast. Ipods can be slipped in a pocket and brought anywhere. Our cellphones have games and apps. We even have DVD players in our vehicles. In our vehicles! I love it! And I hate it. Because I was the one who had to police how much time my kids were indulging in media.

We tend to be on the strict end of how much media we allow our kids to consume in a week, so this “policing” took a lot of time and parenting energy. Awhile back it was getting pretty bad. It seemed to be a constant question at our house; “Can I play on my Ipod?” “Can I go on the computer?” “Can I watch TV?” “Can I watch TV now?” “Now?”. The only thing standing between the kids and their next media fix was me. Not a place I wanted to be. I also wanted to have the kids start making their own decisions about media. We needed a new system, one that would take the heat off me and put the responsibility for choosing when to do media in the kid’s hands.

We decided to go with a token system. I love token systems! They’re so tangible and simple enough for a three-year-old to understand. The last token system we’d set up was when the interrupting was getting out of control at our house. For three weeks, we were going to give each child 10 tokens on Sunday. They would lose a token every time they interrupted. If they had tokens left on Saturday, they earned a prize. By the third week, each child had at least 8 tokens left, had broken their interrupting habit, and our home was a lot more peaceful.

Our media token system is very simple. At the beginning of the week each child gets 16 foam pieces in their favorite color, and each piece represents 15 minutes of media time. We decided that four hours of media was a good start for our family. Any time they want to do media, they let us know and put the right number of tokens in the token box. When their tokens are gone, they’re done with media for the week. They have complete control over when they use their tokens. As an added incentive, we “buy back” any tokens they have left at the end of the week for a quarter a piece.

It’s been awesome to see what happened when the kids took ownership of this area of their lives! They now very carefully plan and prioritize their time instead of soaking up any media they can get. They’ve learned the value of saving up their tokens and not blowing them all on day one. They usually even have tokens left over at the end of the week. With them in charge of deciding when they will do media, we can spend that parenting energy on far more important things.

It’s as if a spell has been broken. Wanting to be constantly entertained by some form of media is no longer their default and we’ve been amazed at what they’re now doing with their extra time. They often drag the Legos out and create wonderful cities and space stations. They read more. They do arts and crafts more. They play outside more. And giving them the freedom to be in charge of this area of their lives has also given them a deeper sense of self-assurance and peace. It’s been an awesome change for our whole family.

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