Eat, Drink, Blog / Gypsy's Musings

A Lesson In Disciplinary Responsibility

A crazy hat project for school: There are 100 feathers in that hat. Call it macaroni!

A crazy hat project for school: There are 100 feathers in that hat. Call it macaroni!

I sometimes envy parents of many children. There seems to be a point of diminishing return with kids, and I’m guessing by the time you get to kids four, five and beyond, you can pretty much phone in the parenting at that point.

I have two kids. Two genders. One-half a generation apart. When it came to outside influences, for example, my daughter was pretty much limited to Barney videos, PBS and the Jump Start series of computer games that ran on a DOS system. My son was born after the Internet revolution (we already had FIOS by the time he entered our world). We also had 500 channels of cable (not that the quality was any better than what PBS continues to offer). You Tube and viral videos are a part of his world, and there’s very little I have been able to do to limit his exposure to these “plugged in ” technologies.

There’s a part of me that wishes I had known how Pandora (the radio station, of course) would leak out and take over our lives. Perhaps I would have reined in the madness, but probably not. For the longest time we only had one television (we now have a second one that only connects to—you guessed it!—the Internet), but we have always had more computers than people during my son’s childhood. Work laptop, home desktop, the cheap e-machine suitable for porn downloading (I bought that one back when I still had the hubby!). We have a lot of computers in our lives.

And then there’s video games: I drew the line at having only a Wii (my son wants an Xbox and Playstation). But we also have handheld devices: Gameboys, DSs, my daughter’s iPhone, my tablet. Let’s face it, they’re ubiquitous. And my son is addicted. At 10!

Whenever he has had discipline issues (whether at home or school), the first thing to go would be the electronic devices. It was like a revolving door of grounded, ungrounded, partially grounded, maybe grounded. We tried the positive reinforcement (i.e. if you have a good day you get x-minutes on the computer), but it always spirals out of control.

So after years of trying to do positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and lots of fights with my daughter (as noted elsewhere in this blog, she’s the “dad” of the family) over disciplining him, I finally came up with an “ah ha!” moment along with a plan that seems to really be working.

About two weeks ago, after grounding my son for the umpteenth time and finding myself capitulating for nearly the umpteenth time, I gave him a notebook with three columns and told him thus:

  1. In the first column, you are to record your “constructive” time;
  2. You get 30 minutes of “free” television (i.e. no computer/games) each day;
  3. For every minute of constructive time, you get one minute of additional television time (second column: 1=1) OR 30 seconds of computer/video game time, which includes Wii or handheld devices (third column: 1=1/2).

I’m pretty generous with what constitutes “constructive time” (he’s 10, after all), but homework or practicing an instrument less than 30 minutes each day is not included. If he practices for an hour, therefore, he would get 30 minutes of constructive time. I also don’t count off for family time; so if we all sit down to watch a movie, for example, he doesn’t have to take away from his earned time. I also count some computer activity as “constructive time”; for example, if he goes on an educational site such as Khan Academy. He’s also learning to type with an online program, so that is “constructive time.” Perhaps not surprisingly, he doesn’t spend much time on these sites; apparently all computer games are not created equally.

One of the paintings my son did for his "constructive time" this week.

One of the paintings my son did for his “constructive time” this week.

We’ve only had two small arguments since this new routine began. The obvious one was “why do I only get half time on the computer” to which I replied that the computer is a bigger distraction for him (it is; most days he won’t watch more than an hour of television regardless). The other argument was over why he couldn’t convert his 30 minutes of “free tv time” to 15 minutes of computer time (obviously, there’s no trouble with the kid’s math skills, but he hasn’t quite got the memo about having “computer issues”).

The best part of all this is now my son feels that he has control over his situation. It’s no longer about “being good/bad” or “being grounded/ungrounded.” Plus, he’s sleeping better (because he’s not getting up early to play on the computer before school). Most mornings now, the first thing he does is opens a book, because he’s used up all his time from the day before. He’s also going out to play whenever it’s not raining. We had to hit up the art store the other day for a school project; he said he wanted to take up painting (I managed to get him a tempura set, brushes and some small card stock for less than $20).

I can’t believe it took me this long to stumble upon a solution that now makes our small home a lot less rancorous. It’s too bad I won’t be able to use this with another kid. Unless it’s one in your life, dear reader.

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