Ditching Computer Games in Favor of Books

Raising Readers: How to Get Kids to Stop Playing Computer Games and Start Reading Great Books {with free printable} from www.flandersfamily.info
I don’t know about the kids at your house, but we have a couple of children who would spend 24 hours a day in front of a computer screen if we’d let them. We’ve tried restrictions (no computer time until homework’s done), rationing (only 15 minutes per day), and relegating it to non-primetime hours (weekends only, after family time).

These measures have helped, but only to a point. The kids cooperated (albeit sometimes begrudgingly), but still spent an inordinate amount of time begging, pleading, or just *waiting* until they could get back online again.

Not exactly the productive use of time we were hoping for.

But now their attitudes have changed, and the transformation has been nothing short of spectacular. It all started when my husband suggested we link computer privileges to reading time. That prompted me to create this little chart:

Raising Readers: How to get kids to ditch computer games in favor of reading great books. {free printable progress chart from www.flandersfamily.info

And we’ve been using it ever since.

Our kids love this system, because (1) they can potentially earn a whole lot more computer time than the 15 minutes/day they used to get, (2) they can redeem their minutes anytime they want provided their chores and homework are finished, and (3) we’ve added a few variations and bonus incentives that make it even more fun and effective (which I’ll explain below).

Mom and Dad love this system, because (1) our kids have stopped begging for more computer time, (2) they are choosing to read for pleasure without our having to coax and cajole, (3) they think twice about redeeming computer time frivolously, preferring instead to save it up for more important stuff, and (4) we wake up to a tidier house, as they lose 2 minutes of computer time (rounded to the nearest 5-minute increment) for every item they leave out overnight.

The chart can be used exactly as printed, but we’ve tweaked it a bit to better suit our family by adding the following guidelines (in addition to the 2-minute charge for clutter):

  • Silent, independent reading to oneself counts as “straight time”
    (they can color in one book for every ten minutes spent reading alone)
  • Listening to somebody else read counts as “half time”
    (they can color in half a book for every ten minutes spent listening)
  • Reading aloud counts as “time and a half”
    (they can color in one and a half books for every ten minutes spent reading aloud)
  • Supervising/helping a beginning reader read aloud also counts as “time and a half” (they can color in one and a half books for every ten minutes spent assisting beginning readers)

These variations have led to lots of cooperation between siblings. They all love to read and be read to. Our 17-year-old is reading one series to his siblings every night before bed (something he’d actually started long before we began rewarding such behavior), our 12-year-old is reading a different series aloud in the afternoons before dinner, and we’ve been checking out and reading to the younger children 80+ picture books from the library every week. This is all in addition to the books Mom reads aloud after lunch, the ones Dad reads aloud after dinner, and the reading they all do for school (all of which we let count on their charts).
Stay Offline and Read a Book: How to get your kids to ditch computer games in favor of great books
We do not own any Gameboys, Wii’s, Xboxes, and the like, but this system would work for regulating time spent on any of those devices, as well. We use it strictly for a shared computer and iPad, for all our children still at home, except the 17-year-old (who was already a voracious reader and very careful about the amount of time he spends online).

We require the kids to have a minimum of ten minutes of computer time saved up to redeem any, but they are allowed to use as much beyond the initial ten minutes as they want, in five minute increments, provided they’ve earned the time and haven’t redeemed it already. Additionally, we allow them to redeem their accumulated computer minutes for things other than time on the computer:

  • 30 minutes of computer time may be exchanged for one large snow-cone
    (at a stand down the street from us)
  • 1 hour of computer time may be exchanged for $5 cash
  • 1.5 hours of computer time may be exchanged for a movie ticket (with/popcorn)

This little system has revolutionized how my children think. They’re finally starting to realize that every minute they choose to spend on a computer is a minute they’ve chosen not to spend doing something else, something better, something more productive. (This would be a good lesson for a lot of adults to learn, as well).

That child who wanted to spend every spare minute in front of the computer before we implemented this plan? He asked us last week whether he could use his computer time to buy extra movie tickets, so he could invite a couple of friends to go with us next time we go. We thought that sounded like a splendid idea. So now he’s saving those minutes. If given a choice between going out for a free snow-cone, getting $25 in spending cash, and seeing a movie with his family and friends… or spending 10 hours trying to reach the final level of Temple Run. Well, the math is easy. He’s a smart kid, and he’s choosing wisely.

To read a recent, related article from Huffington Post on why too much screen time is bad for us, click here: 8 Ways Screens are Ruining Your Family’s Life

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  1. Good morning, Jennifer,

    LOVE the reading/computer time plan. I forwarded this to my 4 DIL who are now, or soon will be, living with this challenge! They are currently doing a wonderful job of juggling this issue, but the chart puts the control in the kids’ hands and promotes good choices. This is always the best kind of training!

    Thank you for all of the great helps!

    With much gratitude,

    1. Thanks, Edith. I agree. The goal is always to help kids develop self-discipline, and I’m happy to think the resources we provide are helping your grandkids do that!

  2. Great idea! I struggle with our 9 and 2 year old daughters with screen time (tv, video games, and iPad games/shows) and I’m not happy with all the computer time they’re getting. (My fault for allowing it, of course). Thank you for sharing what works in your house… this (clueless) mama appreciates the inspiration! =]

  3. Hey Jennifer,

    Is reading this article count as “good reading?” 🙂

    We enjoyed your article and are looking into implementing this system into our house. I saw this article posted on linkedin.

    I hope you and your family are well.

    –Jeff (and Kim)

    1. I guess only you can be the judge of that, Jeff. If you decide to impose this system on my niece and nephews, maybe don’t tell them you got the idea from me — unless, of course, they love it as much as their cousins do! Let me know how it goes. Hugs to all. We miss you!

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