Bill Strong Denver Therapist here.
We are already having a busy summer in my home, as are the families and children I’m working with. This summer will indeed come and go quickly. Let’s make it the best that we can for our children and families. My oldest daughter was just evacuated from her girl scout camp due to the Waldo Canyon fire west of Colorado Springs. Picking her up from camp was exactly what you might expect, a bunch of girls crying that they needed to leave camp early. Smoke was in the air and the camp staff did a great job of organizing the evacuation. Thanks to all who are fighting the many fires though-out our state.
Back at home we are very focused on having a fun but structured summer. I am working with many families this summer on how they can combine fun events within a structured home environment. I believe that free time for kids is great, but too much of it is a huge problem. It’s much easier to be structured during school with a set routine for the morning, afternoon, homework/evening and bedtime. Summer is a whole different animal as it’s natural to be “less structured” thereby resulting in an increase in boredom, arguing and various behavior problems. Rarely is an extreme decrease in structure a good thing for our kiddos.
Allowing your teen to stay up until 2am “social networking” or playing x-box live with “friends” night after night isn’t the way to go! Let your child or teen have fun while sticking with a set curfew, bedtime and full activity schedule. Stick with some type of program to monitor and limit screen time (go here to read more about how much screen time is enough).
I’m currently working with many families on sensible programs for free-time and screen time. Let me go over one such program that I’ve found to work wonders. Keep in mind that all behavior modification programs must be simple, make sense and must be followed to the letter by all (please go here and here to read more on rewards and behavior modification). Let’s allow our children earn free/screen time by structuring what they are getting done by using a reward approach.
Let’s focus on screen-time and this idea is simple (as all behavior modification programs must be). Start a Screen-Time Bank, it’s easy! Have your child or teen makes his/her own bank. Children will have fun with this activity. We used an empty peanut jar, covered with colored paper and stickers etc. with a slot cut-out on the top. Older teens won’t likely have as much fun making their bank unless they are into crafts. Regardless, make the bank real by having is mean something.
Once the bank is made, discuss what each chip is worth. In our home, a blue chip is worth 1/2 hour of screen time, the red an hour, and the black is worth a movie. Our kids can save 5 black chips for a night out to a 3-D movie. Simple enough, yes? Chips can also count for social time and other rewards.
The kiddos earn different color chips for certain activities, chores and responsibilities. I like to freely give out rewards whenever possible. I don’t want the reward to be too difficult for the child/teen to earn. If the reward becomes too difficult to achieve, the child will respond by “not caring” about the program or reward.
For instance, in our home each child gets a blue chip at the start of each morning. They can pool their chips for one hour of screen time or use it individually. You an bet they generally pool their time thereby learning the power of cooperation. There are all kinds of other ways for them to earn chips, and of course we as parents decide just what the limit is. We give chips away from doing chores, good behavior, “going above and beyond” in ways that are helpful. Overall they can earn up to what is about 2 hours of screen time per day…sometimes more and sometimes less. That’s up to us as parents.
Now, just how and when do they cash in their chips??? Here is when the program gets even better. The earning of chips has encouraged good behavior and the completion of tasks/responsibility. Of course, the “Bank” needs to be open for a chip to be cashed in.
In our home, the “Bank is Open” once they pick up their rooms, putting away any belonging, and practice their instruments. Once they do these three things the “Bank is open for business!” Trying to cash in a chip (by sneaking screen time) or extending the screen time beyond what the chip is worth is called “Robbing the Bank”, to which there are various consequences. The immediate one to robbing the bank is that the bank quickly closes and all screens are off.
Be creative in your rewards and consequence. I’m betting this program will work as well for you as it does for us if you follow it and “make it real” by not allowing exceptions.
Feel free to email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
I welcome any feedback or suggestions. I’ll still be blogging my ideas on Children and Families and would love your ideas and participation!
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
William Strong, LCSW
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