With my kids officially out of school, I, along with lots other parents I’m sure, am gearing up for loads of free time. And that means trying to figure out how to manage screen time for the kids. Over the last few months, I’ve put together a very simple marble jar system to help manage their incessant requests for the iPad, television and MORE MINECRAFT PLEEEEASE, and it has made my life so much easier.
Even better, it’s teaching them valuable lessons that they can apply to life beyond the computer screen.
What you’ll need:
- One jar for each kid, labeled with his or her name. I found these at a local craft store, but plastic is fine too. And we used our Mabel’s Labels but a Sharpie works too.
- A timer. I like using a kitchen timer, but you can certainly use your smartphone timer as well.
How it works:
Your kids earn marbles by doing chores, making good choices, or whatever you feel in your household warrants a marble.
In my home for example, marbles are earned for regular chores, or individualized things like my oldest emptying the dishwasher or my toddler staying in her bed all night. There are also one-off opportunities like washing my car, or weeding the garden. Really, it’s what works best for your family so determine how many marbles can be earned then dropped in each kid’s jar.
Next, determine how much screen time each marble is worth.
In my house, each chore generally earns one marble which is worth 15 minutes of screen time. However I set limits: The kids can cash in a maximum of four marbles every day–though I might allow a little more over the summer, especially if they’ve been playing outside for some of the day.
When the kids want screen time, they know to check their jar and pay me the right amount of marbles. Then I set the timer and let them know when time’s up.
Then, there are some times when we have movie night, or I just need them to watch a show for a bit so I can finish up with dinner so I allow a few freebies. Rules are made to be broken (or at least bent) after all.
What not to do:
Really important: This works best when it’s not a reward/punishment system. In other words, don’t take away marbles as punishment for bad behavior; instead, have the children pay you in marbles for certain choices that they get to make.
For example, if my kids are whining about cleaning up a mess they made in the living room, I tell them that they can either do it themselves for free, they can pay me three marbles for me to help, or they can pay me ten marbles and I will do it for them.
Let’s just say I’ve never had to clean up their rooms for them since instituting this system.
Why I love it:
Unlike lots of other token systems that involve star charts or checklists (that as a mom of four I can never keep up with), this is a system that really teaches my kids about rewards and making good choices. They are gaining an understanding of expectations and of limits. They’re learning how to budget and spend wisely. Also, I really like that they are getting some level of control in all of it–I’m not simply doling out rewards haphazardly.
But most of all, while they’re definitely not in front of a computer or TV screen day and all night, they still get some time to enjoy their electronics. It might even make them appreciate that time more.