Yesterday marked the last day of the school year for my kiddos. Summer has arrived. With summer comes much more freedom for the kids, especially now that they are at an age where they can play out and about town without the need for an adult to be present at all times. Just a few years ago, they were younger and not able to just hop on their bikes and go to a friend’s house. In addition to their age, there was another detriment to them getting out and playing more often in the summer. Two summers ago, my son became slightly obsessed with video games. He would be online with a few friends playing games like Roblox or Fortnite. My first reaction was that this was fine. After all, he was being sort of social by playing with his friends. Additionally, I have spent a part of my career working in the video game industry, so I have always had a soft spot in my heart for gaming. As that summer wore on, it was getting to be a little too much. When I would wake up for work, my son would already be awake and sitting at the computer. On weekends, he would play for 8 or 10 hours straight if the adults didn’t intervene. I also noticed that his attitude was changing, and he was being more aggressive and negative. I am not certain that the attitude issues were directly related to the hours spent gaming, but it was the one variable that was most recently introduced so I made that assumption.
I decided to make some changes and figure out a way to encourage less screen time. I have friends who have dealt with this same issue and I have l listened to the solutions that they attempted, all with less than stellar results. Some would ban devices for days at a time; some would limit it to one or two hours per day; still others would have a list of chores that their kids must do in order to earn screen time. In each of those cases, they were holding out screen time as a negative and almost guaranteed that the child would not be in agreement. Each case created an adversarial relationship between parent and child. While I am not one of those parents who coddles their children, I just didn’t find these results to be what I was looking for. I decided to come up with something that my son would see as more enticing than jumping on the computer and playing games.
Since my son was very “into” gaming, he had decided that he wanted to build a new gaming computer. He spent much time deciding on the pieces and parts that he wanted this computer to include and had the overall price tag. With this goal in mind, he was always asking for chores or jobs he could perform and get paid. I decided to play on this desire, even if helping him achieve his goal would lead to a reward that would be largely used for the exact activity I was trying to deter.
The solution I came up with was to create a summer reading program. I thought this would encourage him to read and if he were dedicated, the time spent reading would trump the time spent gaming. I offered to pay him a penny per page that he read over the summer. In order to receive any payment, he needed to read a minimum of 500 pages before school began at the end of the summer. He agreed to this and was excited to get started. After each reading session, he would write his total number of pages on a white board that was visible to the whole family. At the dinner table, we would discuss the page count, he would make repeated requests to go to the local library. All was working great. Then when we were about half done with summer, he was quickly arriving at the 500-page number. I was worried that hitting this milestone would diminish his drive but in reality, it had the opposite effect. Hitting the 500-page milestone reinvigorated him to earn even more money. He didn’t even realize that he wasn’t spending as much time online.
As summer ended, he would up with a total of over 1,000 pages. I was more than happy to peel off those dollars and give them to him. I tried the same program last summer, but it just did not motivate him in the same way. Now that the current summer holiday has begun, I have offered the same program and will anxiously await and see if we can recapture the excitement of that first year or if this summer will more closely mimic last summer. My son has many hobbies and adds new ones each day. Things that are currently piquing his interest are things like BMX bikes, skateboarding, remote control cars and airsoft guns. Each of these hobbies has its own list of needed or wanted accessories and he seems motivated to earn money to be able to buy some of these things. I am hoping that motivation will push him to hit the books again this summer. For the first time, I have also added my daughter to this program. Perhaps a little household competition will push each of them.
Even though last summer wasn’t as successful from a page count perspective, his overall screen time has gone way down and remains that way. I have noticed that his attitude has mostly returned to the happy little guy I was used to before gaming entered his world.