Kids Jobs + Screentime

Back in late June we started a new job/screen system with the kids and I wanted to share a bit about what's working and share the PDF we are using. 

If you are new here we are a blended family that includes 5 kids: 11, 11, 13, 15 and 18. Friday's are our transition days with the kids either coming back here or going to their other homes each Friday afternoon. Over the years we've done a number of different schedules and week on/week off seems to be working well for all of us right now. 

Here's what I wrote on Instagram when I first shared about what we were trying out: 

In our what feels like a never ending quest to encourage balance + personal responsibility we are trying something a little different with the kids this summer. Rather than establishing a daily screen-time limit we are starting off with a focus on tracking screen usage (they all have that ability on their devices) + a daily job for the house + a good deed + exercise + reading. We told them all that we aren’t setting specific limits, instead we are giving them the opportunity to show us they are living life with screen-time NOT as the main part of their day but as a supplement. I made a new chart (each kid gets a clipboard + chart) and each kid is assigned a daily job (some rotate daily between all the kids, others are once a week and others are just things that need to be done at random times) to be completed by 4pm. These charts are to be filled out at bedtime and include space for them to document a good deed - something they saw and took care of for the house without being asked. The goal with the tracking - at least in the beginning - is for them to see just how much time they spend in front of a screen over the course of the week. No one will get in trouble - it’s more an opportunity for discussion and ownership of their own choices. We’re viewing this first week as a trial to see how it goes and will make adjustments as we go. We are also doing “take a break Tuesday” where there will be no screen-time, MarioKart Monday where we’ll play together, Adventures With Ali on Thursday’s (hike, bike, etc). Bring on the personal responsibility and balance!

So after having this system in place for a few weeks and letting everyone get used to it I can tell you that it's working for usIt's imperfect but that's okay. And right now, okay feels just fine.

Here's what I like about this approach so far: 

  1. Kids are helping out around the house more than ever before. This is good for them + it's good for us. Aaron and I sit down every Friday or Saturday morning and establish the jobs. Some of them are recurring every week such as Dinner Assistant, Vacuum Upstairs, Vacuum Downstairs, and on Friday's they are all in charge of changing their sheets + cleaning up their rooms before taking off for their other homes. Other jobs are established based on things we see that need to be done on any given week: weeding in the yard, steam cleaning the floors, washing cars, etc. Some jobs fit better with some kids. Some jobs are easier than others and if we give someone something super easy one week then we take that into account for the next time they are here. 
  2. Having the kids keep track of how much time they spend on screens/TV/etc without having a specific limit has been working for us. This is the first time we've done this before - previous to this we've always had a specific limit of time for screens (and life in general looked different obviously) - usually 1 hour on a school day and 2 hours on weekends. That worked okay and we felt good about limiting to help decrease the "importance" of it BUT we found ourselves constantly monitoring them all the time and that just wasn't working well for anyone any more. Our goal in switching to this set up is to give them the opportunity to regulate themselves. Some of them are better at that than others and that's okay too. It's opened up new conversations about personal responsibility and using screens as an "accent" to your life rather than the main activity of the day. We are also taking into account the fact that we are still basically quarantining + the kids have very, very limited in-person social interactions. Just a note that we use the built-in Screen Time app within their phones to track their time and also ask them to include in their total any time watching TV/playing video games. We've told them we are just looking for honest numbers and that there aren't consequences for going over + continuing to emphasize that we want it to be a supplement to their day rather than the main piece.  
  3. I adjusted the sheet after the first week to give them actual space to write down their exercise + reading for the day. Both are activities that are just expected as part of their day. 
  4. The "good deed" section got a lot of attention the first week and then it's been less of a focus. I'm planning on bringing that back to the forefront again this week when they are here. It's their responsibility to look for an opportunity to do something for someone else or for the house each day. Again, just having that be part of the conversations we are having around here is good.  

Take A Break Tuesday with no screens/tv/video games has been okay too - some ups + downs with that for sure including kids going overboard the next day. Right now we are just watching + paying attention + using it all as opportunities for conversation. 

We also established that one day each week they are here is Adventure With Ali day. That's been going awesome - we are seeing fun new places around us that we've never visited and it's giving us a chance to do something together away from the house out in nature (we are mostly doing things that involve swimming in rivers/creeks). It's been fun to have something to look forward to and it's getting me away from my desk (which can sometimes be hard).  

In reflecting back on our years of parenting I don't think this system would have worked as well for us during some years/times which makes so much sense when you think about all the ages + stages + surrounding circumstances. Our kids are all getting into the older range vs. the "little kid" time and things that worked when they were little are different. Again, yes, totally okay! We adapt, we evolve, we grow, we try new things until they don't work and then we try something else. 

Again, it's imperfect but that's okay! I've attached the PDF of the job chart and another PDF for menu planning below. If they work for you, awesome! If they don't that's okay too. 

Download the Job Chart/Screentime Tracker here.

Download a weekly dinner Menu Planning page here.

As we look forward (man it's hard to look forward right now) we don't know what's going to happen with all the kids schools. This year Elliot + Isaac will be at the same high school, Simon will be at community college, and the girls are entering 6th grade at different schools. We generally don't go back until after Labor Day and for obvious reasons this year is touch + go. I imagine that this chart will evolve as we move into the next phase of life this fall whether or not they are in their classrooms or doing distance learning here. 

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8 thoughts

  1. charris says…

    Great post and really interesting ideas. Thanks Ali!

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. Travelsoul says…

    I really love this idea. I have a five year old. She’s my one and only and when I was working from home, she had way too much screen time. She’s back in a day care for now but like most of us I’m not sure what her kinder year will start off like. I’m also certain that she is still getting too much screen time. I’d like to come up with some age appropriate structure similar to this. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to adapt this for a five year old?

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. anandi says…

      Our screen time rules since my kids were in Kindergarten are no "fun" screen time during the week at all, unless the family is watching a show or movie together. On Fri after school through Sunday at 5pm they can have as much "fun" screen time as they want as long as their jobs and any homework are done. They end up self-regulating pretty well, as it turns out. They are allowed to have educational screen time during the week but all screens go off at 5pm every day and I have an Echo Dot reminder for it so it's not me :)

  3. geordie281 says…

    I had a conversation about screen time with a friend this week. A member of her family is a police officer and when her sons complained that their friends all got way more screen time than they did her response was, "Where's the evidence?" They embarked on a quite sophisticated survey of all of their classmates to find out what is actually going on in families, and ironically they have now been given more screen time as 'the evidence' showed they were right. Their maths teacher has taken this idea on board and is making it a theme for teaching certain concepts! HOWEVER, my daughter (aged 28 with a 4 year old) still looks back on her childhood (when we didn't have to negotiate this stuff thank goodness) and says she loved and still loves the fact that sometimes when she wanted to do things that I wasn't happy about I would tell her that yes, I believed that others were doing such and such a thing, but "our family doesn't do that." She really respected that answer from me and I guess it gave her 'permission' to say no to whatever it was.

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. AliEdwards says…

      Love the "where's the evidence" question!

  4. kislanykim says…

    Ali — you are so thoughtful in how you approach things.

    I am not a parent, so I am so grateful for parents like you and Aaron who are doing your very very best to raise our next generation of citizens. It is such important work, and you all put such time and care and thought and energy into everything you do. Thank you.

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  5. jensearcy says…

    We struggle with this too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. holypeanuts says…

    Thank you for this post! Sometimes when you need something it appears. I have three kids, one who is almost 17 and twins that are 14. I have chore charts for them which has been working so so. I am trying to come up with a way to hold them more accountable. I loved how you are treating screen time as an accent to their life and to learn self regulation. I feel like this needs to be a continuous conversation as parents. My daughter keeps telling me she has nothing to do but sleep, softball, and watch Criminal Minds. She doesn't include the fact that she is on Snapchat and TikTok non stop. My son is pretty much the same way. They would rather sit around all day on their screens than do anything else. It is so sad because they are smart and creative human beings. They have so much to offer the world. Everyday is a battle with the screens especially with our current life situation and all of the uncertainty with school and sports, and just life in general. Ali, your post today gave me some great ideas and I just modified their chore charts and included the screen time totals, exercise and reading section. I also love, love adventures with Ai on Thursday and take a break on Tuesdays. Great ideas and thanks for sharing!

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