I have spent a lot of time thinking about what my children are watching on television and monitoring what they do on the computer. That's why both of those items are right in the hub of our home so that I can keep an eye and ear out to what is entering our home via the electronics and the internet.
However, the one area I have struggled to get a grasp on is how much total television and computer time my kids view each day. I would get one area totally under control, but the other area would be way out of wack and vice-versa. I kept thinking that I don't mind if they do a little of each, but the grand total is killing me! So I rolled a few ideas around in my brain for awhile and this is what came out. It's really a simple system that I've heard used in various ways, but for some reason I just didn't ever get around to implementing it. Partly I think I was just being lazy (or maybe overly busy), but I finally took the time to put the pieces together and now I am wondering why I didn't do it sooner!
Basically, I decided how much total computer/TV time that I felt was acceptable for my kids. Then I created little slips of paper or "tickets" for each child that metered out that amount of time. For example, each morning each child wakes up with 5 tickets in their "pocket". Each child has a green ticket to do their Headsprout episode (Side note: http://www.headsprout.com/ is a web based reading program that I absolutely adore and cannot say enough good things about.) They also have a purple "Fun Stuff" ticket to do 1/2 hour of games on the computer. In addition to this, there are yellow tickets that say "Computer or TV" on them. These tickets are redeemable for either watching a show on TV or watching one of their siblings do their "Fun Stuff" on the computer. This yellow ticket was created because I didn't like the way my kids were watching TV, doing the computer AND sitting and watching someone else do the computer on top of their own stuff. I felt like they had become prisoner to a screen, whether it be television or computer.
Like I said above, my kids now have 5 tickets a day to choose wisely as to how they will use their time. The green Headsprout ones are non-negotiable, but the rest are up to them to choose how they are used. Honestly, I wasn't sure how this system was going to work, but there is something about it that has greatly reduced their amount of screen time. I think the tickets must give them a tangible way to measure out their time. It only took once for my littlest son to spend his tickets frivolously, spending all of his tickets on watching other people. Later in the afternoon when his favorite TV show came on and he had no more tickets left...well, he was out of luck and he was so mad about that! He must have vowed, "Never again!"
Now I find that most days my kids have tickets left in their slot at the end of the day. I find that the TV doesn't automatically come on in the mornings anymore. I see kids choosing to find something else to do other than hover around the computer when someone else is doing their "fun stuff". I've even seen my kids ask to see if their favorite show is a rerun or not and then decide if they want to waste their ticket on it or not. I think that's pretty wise. Why keep watching the same episode over and over again? What a waste!
Such a simple solution...cashing in tickets. It's so simple I'm kind of kicking myself for not implementing it sooner. It took a little time and effort on my part to think of what my goals were and to print up the tickets, but now I've got the sweet victory of wise decision makers and the sound of the imagination working overtime in our house!