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Faith Hacking: Managing Your Kids’ Screen Time

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I love to discover what I call “faith hacks”—practical methods or techniques for living the Christian life. As I read, as I listen to sermons, as I speak to people, I am always looking for insights on how other Christians live out their faith in practical ways. I recently shared an ultra-practical way to display servant leadership, a way to organize prayer, and a way to individually shepherd your children. Today I want to stay with parenting, but to focus on a different aspect of it.

One of the big challenges for every family today is placing limits on their children’s screen time. After all, if you leave the kids on their own, they will watch TV or play iPad games from the moment they wake up to the moment you force them into bed (or my kids will at any rate). How do you motivate your kids to pick up a book or go outside? How do you govern screen time without it collapsing into constant bickering?

I found an interesting solution in Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism. This is not a Christian book, but the solution is sound and could prove very useful. He, too, is a parent and he, too, has tried to limit his kids’ access to their devices and to increase their reading.

To do this, he and his wife devised a token system. They created various ways of earning tokens, and allow those tokens to be redeemed for money or for screen time. The kids have various ways to earn those tokens and two ways to spend them.

The children were given ten tokens at the beginning of the week. These could each be traded in for either thirty minutes of screen time or fifty cents at the end of the week, adding up to $5 or five hours of screen time a week. If a child read a book for thirty minutes, he or she would earn an additional token, which could also be traded in for screen time or for money. The results were incredible: overnight, screen time went down 90 percent, reading went up by the same amount, and the overall effort we had to put into policing the system went way, way down.

It is an interesting system. Of course you could adapt the dollars and the hours to fit your family, and you could extend the system so chores could earn tokens as well. My guess is that McKeown’s children are quite young, and you may need to do some work to extend the system to kids in their teens. But overall, I quite like it, especially because it allows the children to make decisions that teach them to read, to earn, and to spend wisely.

What do you think? Could the system work?


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