Welcome to the story that led to chores for screen time in my household! At the beginning of the lockdown, we were struggling with what we were going to do in our small-ish house with four kids. We are fortunate to have a huge yard which was great all summer, but when the winter months came, you can’t really play outside for hours on end which lead to more screen time. But, how does a parent regulate this?
This led to the idea of purchasing some tablets for the kids. With four children, it was a splurge we felt it would be worth it to do without the constant bickering that would ensue if they didn’t each have their own things. But eek! a tablet for each kid… would that lead to too much screen time?
In the beginning, screen time was mostly unlimited on those rainy days in the summer and even more so as the weather got colder. Our kids sort of policed themselves for the most part which was great to see that given the freedom, they seemed to make good choices for themselves without us badgering them. We encourage our children to be independent and that often includes when they decide they’ve had enough. Eventually, they would get bored with their games and decide to play together or go outside.
Keep in mind, there were plenty of educational apps installed on their devices, the content was also age-appropriate, and the tablets were kept in a central location in our home when not in use, so we told ourselves it wasn’t all that bad.
As time went on though, and the weeks turned into months, and the months turned into a year, we began seriously rethinking that decision of no limits on time even with the kids moderating themselves most of the time.
I still laugh at myself though. When my oldest was still very young, I said I would NEVER allow him to have a tablet. I’m obviously eating crow these days. Parenthood changes you in all sorts of ways you never expect. For me, that has included seriously lowering expectations of myself and them when the situation calls for it (hello COVID!) or gaining a more realistic perspective on things. Every family and parent is different, but this is what has worked for me as a parent – I’ve realized that when I don’t put so much pressure on myself to compare myself to others or strive to be perfect, then I am happier and that, in turn, makes me a much better mom to my kids. Happier parents are always better for their kids, right? That’s my logic behind it at least. If I am at 100%, then I am much more able to give my kids the best version of me too.
All of this led to the creation of chores for screen time. My husband and I sat down one weekend and created a list. We decided what chores each of our children are capable of doing and how many minutes each chore should be worth. Our children are all very much money and incentive motivated so we felt this could be a good fit for all of them.
We also differentiated some chores that only the older two kids (13 and 9) could do, and some only the younger two (4 and 5) were allowed to do (read: no freebies of easy chores for the older two to steal). Mind you, many of the jobs on the chore list are things they were already doing but we constantly had to remind them to do them and many times, it was met with tantrums, eye-rolling, or complete meltdowns.
Creating a list of jobs they could do to earn that screen time they wanted was our way of trying to alleviate a lot of that frustration but most importantly, teach them important life skills like time management, prioritization, math, proper cleaning habits and that all things should be earned in life.
Plus, for a mom with a chronic illness, it’s been really nice to have some extra help around the house from the tiny humans who help make the messes!
So back to the point of us encouraging our children to have independence. There is a study published a few years ago that stated adults who perceived their parents as controlling when they were children, or in other words, were given more independence and warmth, grew up to be happier adults. You can read a more detailed synopsis with a direct link to the study here. Isn’t this what we all want our kids to do? Just to grow up to be happy contributing members to society? I know this is what I want for my own kids. I tell them over and over and over again that I don’t care what they do in life as long as it makes them happy, they can pay their own bills, and they are doing something good and/or productive with themselves.
Let me tell you, I wish we would have thought of this years ago! One of my children has anxiety that mostly manifests with his needing to know what the plan for every day is. (We’re working on those things but that’s a topic for another day.) He also has a tendency to get bored quite easily but allowing him the power to plan out his own day and complete tasks to gain the reward he wants, when he wants, has allowed him to really excel. This chore list has helped him most of the four kids so far. However, I believe this has been a good overall change for all of them. I know their dad and I are definitely enjoying it!
Check out this article to see appropriate chores for preschoolers if you would like to generate some ideas for your own list.
Does your family implement chores for screen time? Tell us about it in the comments!