I had a private email today asking about my thoughts on video games, house rules, etc. and why I really didn't want the boys to have a Wii/video games. So I thought I would discuss my responses here to see how others feel about such things. I am actually assuming most will disagree with us as it often appears that way in "real life", but I am always interested in learning what works for others.
We parent differently than many people, we recognize that and we are often probably looked at as total weirdos because of it. We don't expect others to live like us, but what works for others doesn't seem to work for us to create the kind of life we want to have. We have certain rules and things we plan to do in the future with the kids. I will be the first to admit that some of this might change over time, as we re-evaluate, etc. but here are some of our rules in our house with the kids:
1) Respect for everyone at all times, including your siblings. We have never, ever allowed them to treat one another unkindly. That includes saying unkind things, not saying "please" and "thank you" to one another...we expect them to treat each other the way they treat us. And believe it or not, when we catch one of them slip up, we immediately make them go to the offended party and apologize...and yes by looking them in the eye...and to give the hurt brother a hug. Going too far? I am sure some would think so, we don't. There is never a reason good enough for yelling or screaming at each other, EVER.
2) No TV, computer or phone in your bedroom, ever. This one I know we are freaks over!! We have an older computer that was given to us by a friend that sits in our TV room and is the boys' to use for their games, and often they will all gather around it with their friends leaning over their shoulders as they play games on it. Almost all those games are history/strategy games, or educational in one way or another. We have no "shoot 'em up, bang bang" games with gratuitous violence....but we do let them play with toy guns...for us there is a difference between playing "army" outside or "Police" and seeing people blown away graphically on screen with blood flying everywhere.
We want to see what the boys are doing at all times on the computer. But more importantly, we do not want them isolating themselves in their bedroom for hours on end without interaction with the family. How many kids do I know spend many of their waking hours alone in their rooms in front of the boob tube? It is not a matter of not allowing privacy, it is that they are children and they need to be connected with those who love them.
3) We do not give an allowance. We feel that the kids live in this home just as we do, and it is theirs to take care of just as it is ours. They have all always had chores that are matched to what they are capable of doing for their age. Matthew was making his bed on his own when he was 3...to the best of his ability. I did not go behind him and remake it, he was proud of what he did. With the loft beds it is very awkward so we do not make them "make" their beds each day, just pull up their blankets. Our rule has always been "If you CAN do it for yourself than you SHOULD do it for yourself!" but then I have needed to learn to stand back and let them do it to the best of their ability and applaud them for it, even if it does not meet my own personal standards. The idea is for them to learn how to do something for themselves, and for awhile it may not be as perfect as I'd like but they will never know it, they will only have me cheerleading them on.
I have not cleaned their bedroom myself in 4 or 5 years. I go in once a year maybe and help them sort out toys and figure out ways to better organize it. They clean it, and until it is clean they can not go on to other tasks. Is it always clean? No, there are days when friends are over and it looks like a cyclone hit it as legos are strewn from one end of the room to the other, but ultimately they have to clean it themselves and it has to be done 2 or 3 times a week.
They put their own dishes in the dishwasher after meals, the empty the dishwasher all together, sometimes they set the table, they sometimes vacuum, they clean bathrooms, they take the trash cans to the curb and back (not an easy task when those heavy cans are about an acre back from the road and over a gravel driveway!), they help with laundry sorting their underwear and sometimes hanging things from the drier. They haul firewood to the back door, they rake leaves, they muck out the car.
We do sometimes pay them for additional big jobs, but for the day to day chores we do not pay an allowance. We might someday, I find myself flip flopping on this one as I can also see the value in it as well. Mainly though, we do not ever want to get in the situation where they think they will be paid to do what they SHOULD be doing around the house as a member of this family.
4) We limit TV and computer time. Honestly, we NEVER hear "I'm bored" around our house. In fact, I don't think I have heard it even one time, even during the summer! We do not go to extremes where we don't allow screen time at all, but we do say "Ok, time to turn it off and go play outside or do something else.". Our kids in a normal week probably watch a total of about an hour a day of TV, and some days it is none while on a Saturday morning it might be more. We try to encourage them to do a variety of activities. None of the 3 of them are really "jocks" and are not all that interested in sports but they enjoy playing outside on the trampoline, playing in the dirt, riding bikes, or in the summer spending hours in little blow up pools or with a slip-n-slide. They read, they like crafts, they consider going to the library a real treat...and of course there are the ever-present legos.
5) We are very careful about the input from TV, computer and radio. While we don't always shelter them to the degree that some parents do, we are certainly more protective than many are. And if something comes on that is questionable, I tend to quickly evaluate it and decide if it is something that is borderline but could lead to a good conversation about what NOT to do in life (a drug scene on TV, etc.) and how we can use it as a teaching moment...or if it is just too far over the top.
6) OK...and this one is my own bugaboo...but we don't let them say certain words that others consider perfectly acceptable. We don't like to hear "butt" and ask them to say "bottom" instead. I don't allow them to say "boogers", we don't ever allow them to say "shut up" to anyone and we do not allow them to call anyone "stupid" or "dumb". They can say that something is stupid, but not a person...or they can say that someone did a stupid thing but not call them stupid. We also do not let them say "God" in any way other than in reverence or in theological discussion. One thing we have a hard time with due to other adults' insistence is we do not like adults referred to only by their first name, but because other adults often request to be called by it rather than the titles of "Mr." or "Mrs." and then their last name, we have allowed them to call someone by their first name if they put "Mr." or "Miss" in front of it...as in "Mr. Steve". We feel it is disrespectful for a child to place an adult on the level of familiarity as their playground friends, but society today often thwarts us in that effort. We also don't let them say "I hate that" or "I don't like that" and have asked them to say it in a more kind and respectful way by saying "I don't care for that...I'd prefer not to have that.". I don't want them at someones home who has prepared a nice meal and crassly spewing out "I HATE that! Ick!".
7) We pray together almost every night as a family. God is real to us. We pray in the car on the way to school if someone has a tough day ahead of them. We pray when we pass an accident and ask God to protect those involved. Most often though, we all pray together out of gratitude...gratitude for us being together as a family, gratitude that we have enough food for today and a warm home to live in, gratitude for the kindness of all the others in our lives.
8) We don't allow them to dress in certain ways. No sideways baseball hats, no baggy pants, no T-Shirt with questionable sayings on them...including the seemingly popular ones with smart alecky sayings on them. We try to avoid, in general, the commercial stuff with cartoon characters all over the place, etc...while we have a couple things in the closet with it by and large we don't encourage it.
9) We never, ever buy them toys when we go to the store. We can't afford it, there is no reason for it, we are not obligated to, and we will not do it for bribery for good behavior. They will behave because that is our rule. Period.
10) We try to teach them gratitude and to share what you have...share your material things, share your money, share your time, share your heart. We try to teach by example, we share as much as we can of ourselves and our "stuff" with anyone we can. We try to teach them the joy of caring for others, that lasting happiness comes in the form of giving, and that receiving is second best but is sometimes a blessing to someone else giving to you. Life is about relationships and moments, not about things. Things are fleeting.
So what are your rules? How do you handle video games and computers, homework and housework? I'd love to hear from you!
ADDITION: Shannon posted in the comments: "We do not have a portable DVD player for car trips (I think we're the only ones in the world) as we never had one and use that time to talk and play car games. " We too had this rule for quite awhile, I thought it was ridiculous to have a DVD player in the car...until we realized that we took our first really long trip to California which is a 2 day drive from here. You see, we live in rural Colorado, and 5 minutes outside our town and there is NOTHING. When we drive to Denver (a 5 hour trip and one we make 4-5 times a year for various reasons) it is miles upon miles of nothing but landscape. Yes, it is beautiful and yes it is why we love living here BUT once you've seen it a few trips, you've seen it! :-) We do NOT break it out for our hour long trips to Grand Junction or Gunnison, only much longer trips when talking will have been exhausted.