The other day the topic of our kids and their beloved tablets came up in conversation amongst my friends. We each have kids between the ages of 3 and 7 and they all have their own personal tablet and use them for games, watching movies and surfing Youtube. The frequency of use varied between families, however we each agreed that though we know our kids should use them less…we all could admit that we do not stick to any particular limits on screen time.
I am fully aware that I let my kids use their tablets as a form of child care because when they are glued to those screens I can get uninterrupted time to get ready in the morning, pack for the day’s adventure, make a meal or just talk to my husband. They sit quietly across from each other on the couch, and there are no arguments or yelling or tattling on each other because they are completely absorbed by the screen, or as my husband and I like to call them…tablet zombies.
We do have a few rules that we stick to, like their tablets don’t leave the house, they use them in the living room only and they are allowed to use them in the morning before breakfast, while we are getting ready for work, and after school while we are making dinner. Of course there are also the times when I’ll suggest they go sit with their tablets when I need a few minutes to get something done.
Other than asking for snacks, asking if they can use their tablets is the most common question in my house. Even though they know most times we will say no that does not stop them from asking. In saying this, I am realizing that their tablets are always laying out on the coffee table and they could really just go and pick them up anytime they want, but they always ask first, ha ha that is sort of funny.
We are always hearing about how bad screen time is for our kids, that it can affect their physical and developmental health, which intuitively makes sense when you are referring to inactivity and social skills, but you also hear how it can affect their sleep and behavior. My husband, who is a teacher, just had a presentation at his school about the negative effects of screen time on attention and how that may present itself in an academic setting, scary stuff!
· There are recommended screen times depending on your child’s age: younger than 2 years is not recommended, 2-5 years limit to 1 hour per day
· There should be daily screen free times especially for meals and book-sharing
· All ages should avoid screens for at least 1 hours before bedtime because of the melatonin-suppressing effects.
Overall, if screen time is regulated and monitored it will not completely destroy my children, phewf! Ok, so with that in mind how can I use my children’s obsession with their tablets for good? As a parent I am always looking for that golden ticket that I can use to intrinsically motivate my kids to be the best version of themselves. To be kind to their sibling, to respect their parents, to work hard in school and maybe even help out around the house.
The Answer…a Star Chart
Why it has taken me so long to come up with this strategy I will never know, but I am going to implement a behaviour plan that uses screen time as the reward. My goal is to encourage independence, cooperation, thoughtfulness and self-awareness using what I know my kids are already addicted to, their tablets…I’m not sure if this is ethical.
The secondary gain is that they will essentially be responsible for how much screen time they get and can decide how to use it, which will also build a sense of ownership over their behavior. If all goes as planned, they will essentially be regulating their screen time independently…here is how it will work.
Each of my children will have their own chart with specific tasks they are expected to perform to earn screen time stars. Each star is worth 5 minutes of screen time, and the start bank will help them keep track of the total screen time they have earned.
For example my son’s chart will have these types of tasks
Acts of kindness
· Helping his sister carry her back pack
Around the house
· Taking his dishes to the counter
· Tidying his room
· Emptying his backpack
· Practice shooting the puck
· Home reading
The categories will be similar for my younger daughter, but with tasks appropriate for her age. At the bottom of the chart will be rows of stars, and when they complete a task from the list we will color a star. The star bank is for parents use only and where their total stars and equivalent screen time will be tracked.
Now, here is the best part, when rules are broken stars can be taken away and screen time decreased. The rules will be clear and laid out, so there are no surprises about what results in losing stars.
During the times we allow our kids to be on their tablets it will be up to them to choose how much of their earned screen time they want to cash in. They will be able to see their star bank which will encourage them to perform the behaviours that will earn stars.
Now, do I want to have kids that only do something or are nice to each other in order to watch their tablets, no of course not, but I am hoping that over time this helps them to form good habits that eventually become part of who they are and what they do on a regular basis.
Even as adults we are motivated by something to act the way we do each day, and have learned how to behave to get ahead in life and get what we want. This is an important concept for children to understand and learn to use.
Print the Star Chart here!
Take a look at the printable chart and customize it for your child. I suggest laminating it and using white board makers to color the stars and update the star bank. I will post a follow up on how this has been working for my kiddos and would love to hear how it worked out for you.
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