Geek Dad Finds Peace at Home with Screen-Time Tokens

Being a stay-at-home father of three sometimes means finding a media-friendly reward for finished chores and good behavior.
Taryn Degnan Interactive Marketing Manager | Mom of one Categories: Screen Time
Interactive Marketing Manager | Mom of one

This post was contributed by Jonathan Liu as part of our Father's Day series. We're celebrating awesome dads this week by letting them share stories, tips, and tribulations from their own homes and families.

Despite the fact that I spend much of my time in front of a computer screen -- or maybe because of it -- I closely regulate my three kids' screen time. But that can be difficult; often my decision to let them spend time playing on the iPad or watching a show depends more on my own mood than on some deliberate choice I'm making about their mental, physical, or ocular health. Let's face it: Sometimes I say no just because I'm having a bad day -- or else I let them binge because I'm tired of hearing them argue, which basically rewards them for bad behavior.

Inspired by a friend of ours, we established a system of screen time tokens. Each kid gets a set number of tokens every weekend, worth 20 minutes each. As long as chores are done, they can decide how and when to use them -- whether to spend them all at once or meter them out over the weekend.

It's a very simple solution, but it's been working well so far. What I like is that it teaches my kids to budget, and it puts them in (partial) control of how they get their digital entertainment. Since we've started using the tokens, I haven't had to referee any arguments about who gets more time on the iPad. And as a bonus, I now have a currency that actually has value to my kids; giving them more tokens as a reward or taking away tokens as a penalty for bad behavior actually influences their behavior in a way that other incentives and punishments don't.

Right now my kids aren't old enough to have their own smartphones or laptops, and the day will come when they'll need a computer to do homework, not just to watch YouTube videos or play games. But I hope by establishing this balance now, it'll make it easier for them to maintain it in the future.

If only I were able to strike a good balance myself. Maybe I'll work on that right after I watch Season 4 of Arrested Development.

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad of three (9, 6, and 6 weeks!), a voracious reader, and a board game addict, and he writes about all of that at You can follow him on Twitter at @jonathanhliu.

About Taryn Degnan

As Common Sense Media's Interactive Marketing Manager, Taryn is responsible for growing and engaging our online community (that's you!) She's the voice behind our social media channels and spends her time finding... Read more

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