Monday, July 21, 2008

Summer -- Digital Family Style -- Earning Fun

So how has summer changed?

When I was growing up, we would bum around, my sister and I. Both my parents worked and we were expected to do chores, go to the movies, read, go to friends houses. I'd need to earn my allowance, which gave me my budget for summer fun.

With my three children's friends families, they all seem to overbook summer. Summer school, family trips, summer programs with museums and organizations. Mom and dad might both work, if there are both, but the kids are expected to be booked up, just like during the school year.

My own kids are enjoying a mixed summer. They are going to the community pool together, reading, using the slip & slide, heading to the local movies, and getting together with friends. But their friends are hyperbooked -- traveling, in summer programs, not around.

Where does the digital media side fit in? If it was up to my tween son, he'd be on computer games all summer and never see the outside of the house. We have limited him to about 2 hours max/day, which he has to "earn" with points for chores and doing good things without being asked. Our Point system we set up when the kids were very small, giving them colored stones in a jar for doing things without being asked. That has turned into a long-term ecosystem, with scores on the refrigerator by child. Points are spent on TV (unless watching it with a parent), computer time, and buying things. A point is a dollar in the real world. TV time is 3 points per half hour and computer time is similar (depending on if the child had bought the game).

The nice impact this summer is that the kids are budgeting their resources, taking on small projects around the house in order to earn more TV and computer time (with so much spare time in hand). My kitchen is cleaner, weeds are pulled, and most of the laundry is done.

What are they choosing to do with digital media?
-- Youngest is on Webkinz, but mostly spending her hard-earned points on the critters themselves. It is hard to earn that many points regularly without doing a lot of household chores. She is doing a nice job on the lawns and small yard tasks. She also makes everyone lunch, which earns her points. Excellent at Top Ramen and sandwiches. Mac & cheese is a favorite. She even cleans up after cooking for extra points.
-- Tween son has been doing more kitchen duty like breakfast and dishes. Points earned go right to computer time.
-- Teen daughter? She is reading and writing her summer, as well as taking Mandarin at the local community college. Her use of earned points? She's catching up on past series with Hulu.com. I've just bequeathed to her our Netflix subscription so that she also can (a) shephard our orders to plan family viewing and (b) see the first two seasons of Doctor Who on demand streamed right to her computer.

Our Points system has infiltrated a few other homes over the past few years, as other parents have asked us for tools on how to help them offer media as a choice and reward instead of an entitlement. My kids have developed wonderful skills, judgment, and budgeting talents. They know they have tradeoffs to make.

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