The Rewards of Screen Time

BY RACHEL HOEING, Co-founder of Triad Moms on Main

Do you give screen time as a reward in your house? Or is it something that your kids don’t use at all? Or is screen time something that is allowed whenever they want it? By “screen time,” I am referring to watching TV, using computers, X-Boxes, smartphones, and other electronic devices.

In our home, I’ve got one child who couldn’t care less about most electronic devices. She is ten, likes to watch TV, and will jump on the iPad every once in a while. Other than that, she isn’t very interested. My 7th-grade son, on the other hand, loves some X-Box, computer, and just about any other electronic games he can get his hands on. He could easily pass an entire day in the darkness of our basement while playing NBA 2K and Destiny. For this reason, screen time is a perfect tool for me to use as a reward to reinforce his positive behavior.

As a rule of thumb, my children are not allowed any electronic devices during the week unless they have a school assignment that needs to be completed on the computer. So, no iTouch, no X-Box, etc. Television is allowed after dinner and only if all homework is complete. Neither of my kids has a phone, so this rule is fairly easy for them to abide by. They also both love to play outside and spend the majority of their afternoons with the neighborhood kids. In all honesty, if there are sports and homework after school, there isn’t much time left for electronics anyway.

On weekends, they both have screen-time privileges, and it works like this:

Television is allowed at any time. They both usually watch when they wake up and maybe late in the day, but don’t usually abuse the privilege, so we don’t have to put too many rules on it.

My daughter can use the iPad, computer, and iTouch pretty much at her own discretion. It is rare that she spends a lot of time on these things, so I don’t have any hard rules for her. (She has other fun activities that we use for positive reinforcement!)

As far as my son is concerned, we struggled at the beginning of the year with a lack of effort in academics. For this reason, screen time has been perfect leverage for him. We get on the school website on Friday afternoon to check my son’s current grade averages and figure out how many hours he has earned for the weekend. We look at the five core subjects and his grades at that time. For each A or B, he earns an hour of screen time. For each C, it is neutral. For each D of F, he loses an hour. So, if he had two A’s, one C, and two D’s, he would not earn any screen time. Since we have implemented this reward system, he has not let any of his grades slip below a C, which has made us all very happy!

Every family is different, and every child is different, so my idea may not work for your family, or you may need to tweak a few things here and there. With summer break just days ahead, I hope these suggestions help your family in monitoring screen-time habits as much as they have helped us.