Should Screen Time Be Earned?

by Shannon Evans

Take one glance at any parenting board on Pinterest and you're likely to be inundated with printable charts and tips for supporting the idea of using screen time as a reward for finished chores or homework. The parenting technique has become so common, and is so clearly effective, that many moms don't think twice about it. But what are the long term effects? Should screen time be earned, or does that send a message you might completely overlook?

On a recent article on her website, children's technology and development expert Dr. Kristy Goodwin confessed to bribing her children with screen time when she's in a pinch. Her reasons? It works, and it works quickly, and as a mom, even Goodwin is sometimes just doing the best she can in the moment. But as a professional researcher and author, Goodwin knows using screen time as a reward is not beneficial for her kids in the long run.

"There’s little doubt that incentivizing kids’ behavior with screen time works," Goodwin wrote on her blog in April, "However, it’s only effective in the short-term and doesn’t help our kids to develop their intrinsic motivation, nor does it help them to learn how to emotionally regulate."

The married couple behind the website Screen-Free Parenting concur. The psychologist who goes by "Dr. Screen-Free Mom" on the popular site has written, "There is definitely such a thing as too much praise, sticker charts, and reward systems, especially when they mess with the child’s internal reward system. Don’t send the message to your kids that screen time is better than playing outside or playing together. You are increasing the likelihood that they will want screen time and feel good when they get it."

So what can you use as a reward? Dr. Screen-Free Mom has advised, "A reward should be something you value as a family. Do you value them sitting in front of the screen? No? Then, don’t make it a reward. Do you value purchasing things? No? Then, don’t make a new toy a reward. For young children, the best unconditioned stimulus is you, the caregiver. A smile, cuddle, and showering of attention from you is a great reward. Want to up the ante even more? Offer to do something they want. Drop what you are doing and do something they request."

If you have to use screen time as a reward every now and then to get something done, don't sweat it. But as far as making plans and habits go, the best reward truly is your presence. Just ask your kid.