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Managing Your Kids' Video Game Time: Earn Games With Chores

Jordan is a future step mother of four. She frequently searches for parenting techniques that will assist in wrangling her new family.

The Hassle of Video Games and Kids

When I originally met my fiance, the kids played video games all the time. It was a frequent source of arguments between the children, and it was a constant headache for him. Now, we are guilty of enjoying video games ourselves; however, I had to wrack my brain to find a way to monitor and enforce the amount of game time each of the kids got throughout the day. How long was too long on the screen? Games were a privilege, not a right, so how did I make the kids understand this? Coming up with a solution wasn't quite so easy.

This is similar to the chore chart we created on our first attempt.

This is similar to the chore chart we created on our first attempt.

Attempt 1: The Chore Chart

The first attempt worked well for half of the kids: We created a chore chart that had a list of twenty chores on it. Each of the children had their own colored star sticker that would be placed in the corresponding chore/day chart. If they got their sticker, it meant that they completed a chore that was worth a specific amount of video game time. The potential to earn game time was nearly endless (proving to be more of an issue than a benefit in some instances.)

How It Worked for Our Kids

My thirteen-year-old, while not originally enthusiastic about the concept, ended up diving headfirst into the idea. He realized very quickly that the more he helped around the house, the more time he got to spend playing video games. He would wake up early just to start on his chores, and he would hit as many as he could that held the highest reward (i.e, dishes were worth 45 minutes of game time while checking the mail was only worth 15). He would frequently end up with four to five hours of game time saved up to use whenever he wanted throughout the day. This resulted in more arguments because he maintained power over the TV for the majority of the day.

My six-year-old understood how to earn the game time, but he was discouraged by the fact that he wasn't able to do some tasks that earned as much game time. He can't reach the counter to do dishes, for example, and he isn't quite ready for that task. He would do a few chores, but barely enough to earn an hour, and with little understanding of how time works at that age, he was frequently disappointed that he didn't seem to get to play his games for too long.

My other two children didn't want to participate as much:

My daughter decided that she wasn't that big a fan of video games, and she would rather read a book or go play with her friends. So to her, that meant that she must not have to do chores. Again, not quite the concept we were trying for.

My oldest has Asperger's, so it can be difficult to get him to participate in new activities. He decided that it wasn't a fair system, and that he didn't want to have to do that many chores to be able to play games for that long.

So we tried again.

What we ended on: our house rules for video games.

What we ended on: our house rules for video games.

Attempt Two: Rules and Chore Sticks

The concept that worked was more simple. There were a few basic rules:

  • All school work must be completed. No games can be played until all of your homework is done, and you have no missing assignments.
  • You must do two chores to be able to play video games. We all live here, we can all help take care of our home.
  • If you get into trouble during the day, you forfeit all earned game time. (No fighting, no hitting each other, don't make me ask you to do your chores, clean up your messes, etc.)

If you can manage this, you earn your two hours for the day. With four kids, this added up to 8 hours a day for game time. The chores were daily tasks that have to be done, like cleaning the litter box, washing the dishes, checking the mail, taking out the garbage—the works. None of the chores took more than an hour, everyone had the same amount of video game time, and while one played, the others occupied themselves.

Chores were written on popsicle sticks that were color-coded to keep them in their corresponding day pockets. There were ten chores to pick from in each pocket, meaning if one kid had done dishes the day before and didn't want to do them again the following day, they could draw one more stick to try again for a different chore. (Chores for the six-year-old were easier, like checking the mail or sweeping around the litter box).

The chore stick organizer! Made from old jeans that were falling apart, these jean pockets hold each day's chore selections.

The chore stick organizer! Made from old jeans that were falling apart, these jean pockets hold each day's chore selections.

The typical chore selection. (Sticks labeled E were for the six-year-old specifically.)

The typical chore selection. (Sticks labeled E were for the six-year-old specifically.)

How It Worked for Our Kids

This concept has worked the best for us. It ensures that the kids begin to understand of work hard play harder, they prioritize school work and chores over the video games since not completing the priorities means you don't get access to the fun activities, and none of the kids get more than two hours of screen time a day.

During the school year, we do often have to reduce game time down from two hours a day, to just one hour, as there is only so much time between getting off the bus and going to bed. And there are most definitely days where all of the requirements get done, yet we make the kids spend the day outside; however, the arguments over this have nearly dissipated, and it has forced them to become more social with the kids in the neighborhood. While this may not work for all families, it seemed to work best for our four children!