To Pay or Not to Pay

Summer has finally arrived. Our kids will be out of school and we dare to hope they will take a break, now and then, from screen time. They’ll have more time to help out around the house. 

Last summer my teen asked if I would be paying her an allowance for helping out more. That’s a healthy debate topic. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I am happy to share the plan we came up with that has successfully worked for the past year.

Item One: I explained I could spend more time playing or hanging out with her if she helps me with my “chores.” I think that particular bargain is more attractive to a younger audience and not as enticing for the teens.

Item Two: She has to earn screen time with chores. To increase buy-in and reduce whining, I had her draft the “contract” to earn minutes of screen time for tasks completed. I let her pick chores she doesn’t hate because anything she does helps reduce my load and I didn’t want this to be perceived as punishment. The contract for screen time has been a huge success. In the afternoon, she jumps at the opportunity to walk the dog, sweep the kitchen/dining room and empty the dishwasher so she can have screen time while I cook dinner. It’s cheaper for me than an allowance and she enjoys the “gamification” part—the challenge. The list can change by week. It lives in a Google doc so it is easily customized. She likes printing it and putting it on the fridge to see me check off the minutes she has earned. She can’t earn more than two hours of screen time a day. Of course homework time on the computer during the school season doesn’t count—it is more of a social media/Netflix diet now that she is a teen. She agreed that social media will be disconnected if any class grade drops to a C. And the Netflix password changes. She understands how quickly a B can drop if one isn’t paying attention. I enjoyed seeing her email her teachers to meet during office hours to discuss strategies for bringing her two B grades to A grades.

Item Three: Now that she is older, she likes seeing that I will walk the walk so I agreed to take social media off my phone to reduce my usage (except Twitter because my Twitter is intentionally limited to work-related teaching interactions). I’ve agreed to stick to a stricter social media and Netflix diet also. Our home computers are side by side so we have some mutual accountability. This part is very important to her. Because I agree to similar standards, she views this as a good life choice instead of a parenting mandate that she’ll throw out the window when she is grown.

Item Four: I highly agree that a chance to earn money is a good idea too, but I have one bucket of money and my allotment to spending on her fun is already at its max. Now that she is older, we brainstorm ways she can earn money from someone other than me, like through baby-sitting, blogging, etc. 

There might be tidbits you can glean from our plan, but it is very important that you plan with your child to customize what works for you that they will feel invested in. The plan loses all of its magic if the list of tasks is loathed. Here’s hoping we all have a productive and fun summer break.

Christie Fierro teaches Communication at TCC and lives in Gig Harbor.

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