Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Trading Up for Success

We gave our 11-year-old son an iPod Touch for Christmas. It was a cop-out gift. We couldn’t think of anything “big” and his siblings were getting big presents. All he’d mentioned he wanted were nerf guns and ridiculously-expensive Lego sets. My problem with those choices is that Lego land mines carpet the floor of his room and every time I vacuum any room in our house I am forced to stop multiple times to pick up nerf bullets of every shape and size. (I would suck them right up which would be satisfying but ultimately mean more work for me since they clog up the vacuum.).

In an act of desperation, and with complete lack of forethought, we purchased an I-touch.

Here’s another little piece of background knowledge you should have – this child is my most screen-addicted off spring. He’s a sweet, obedient child but screens bring out a desperate, lying side we rarely see. Until he discovered the joys of YouTube and Minecraft we rarely fought. Now it is a scab we pick at daily.

So why, pray tell, would we buy him his own personal screen? Good question.

A few years ago, I spent a year breaking a particularly difficult horse. What made him difficult wasn’t his attitude, but his curiosity and his smarts. He taught me time and again that if I wanted him to make the right choice, I needed to make the right choice easy. Putting a screen under my child’s nose is not making the right choice easy.

On Christmas morning, he was completely shocked when he opened the Touch. He glanced around and said, “This is for me?” wondering if he’d opened the wrong present. In less than two weeks, he logged so many hours on YouTube that our cable company sent us a notice that we’d overused our wifi. I didn’t even know that was possible. $10 more for every 50GB over. Something had to be done. At the end of January, I decided to give my son a new choice, or more accurately, a bribe.

How about a new Christmas present – something he actually wanted? He’d used all his Amazon gift cards to purchase several massive Nerf Guns so big he could barely lift them and potentially life threatening to the cats. He then dropped more than a few hints that he was disappointed that he didn’t get any humongous over-priced Lego sets for Christmas. I’d seen him studying the Lego catalog recently, so I preyed on his weakness.

“If I offered to trade your Touch for a big Lego set, would you be interested in making the deal?”

His face lit up. “How big?”

I gave him an upper limit and said he couldn’t ask for his Itouch back until his next birthday (six months away) or Christmas.

“But then I’ll know what I’m getting,” he protested.

“That’s my offer,” I told him, already thinking of my counter offer.

“Okay!” he shouted and raced to find his Lego catalog.

As he wrestled with the decision, he negotiated to take part of my offer in “Mom Bucks.” Mom bucks are a currency in our house that are worth double if you spend them on books, make a donation, or deposit the money in savings. He figured that if he didn’t have his Touch anymore he’d need more books to read. I suppressed my evil laugh. My plan was working.

We have the power to set our children up to succeed or fail. It’s not called manipulation – it’s called parenting.

Now we have arrived at the birthday and he is asking for his Touch again. What’s an Indian Giver parent to do? Yup, I have more than one bribe up my sleeve. He’s been begging for a new baseball bat all season. Those sticks don’t come cheap!

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