Tip: Productive vs Fun vs Both

This week, I have the boys once again for summer vacation.  The last time they were here, we instituted a new policy while I worked.  Like most parents, I frown upon overindulging in video games when they are with me.  As such, we now have the policy of thirty minutes of “fun time” for thirty minutes of “productive time”.


The Con

I could say that our balancing act is that written up in books, but really, I’m leveraging what is probably best described as “strategic manipulation”.  This could also be described as the con, or loosely as Jedi mind tricks.

1. The Bait

“Fun time” is anything goes.  The kids are able to play Minecraft, dork around on their iPad/iPhone, watch TV, or anything that they wish.  This is so enticing that the kids fall for it each time.  They will do anything to feed that little Dopamine release in their brains.

2. The Price

“Productive time” is defined as anything that is not video games, movies, or TV.  In our world, this includes:

  • Board games
  • Piano practice
  • Reading
  • Coloring
  • Activity Kits (like Kiwi Crate – picture above)
  • Mindstorms
  • Chess via ChessKid or Chess.com
  • Believe it not, baths and teeth brushing

Basically, they have a lot of flexibility as long as the kids are working their brain, their hands, and, fingers crossed, interacting with one another.  Please note, this is not without effort on the parent’s part.  I make specific trips and perform research to find new and interesting things to keep the kids involved.

3. The Switch

This is the critical step.  The “productive time” needs to be interesting enough to the kids that the lines between “productive time” and “fun time” blur.  Once they’re having fun with the productive time, then they stop needing video games for that Dopamine release.  This does take time and does take involvement, but is critical.  You cannot just hit up Michael’s for some crayon or buy some board games, and go about your email or cleaning house.

4. The Payoff

Now, that we’re two weeks into this mode of operating, I can say that the kids are having more fun, they’re interested more than ever in trying new things, and getting along better.  They actually spend more time wanting to do those productive things than video games.  While they had previously argued and competed doing video games, they now try to work together when playing video games.

Is everything peaceful?  Not by a long shot.  I have a 7 and 12 year old, but I’m proud of my boys that they are now seeking out fun in new ways and working together more.


Be sure to look for our review of Kiwi Crate coming soon.

Until then, happy fun parenting!

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