Kids Will Work for Money: Commission-based Chores

Jan 12

About a year ago, I implemented a new chore system for our household.  Determined to get my kids to learn the value of hard work, I developed a commission-based chore schedule.  I was sick of begging them to set the table, practice piano, or do homework.  Even worse, I was fed up with the shrill battle cry that erupted from my lungs when they ignored my multiple requests. 

I’d considered starting an allowance for each of them, but my inner voice of reason taunted me with names like schmuck, sucker, push-over.¬† Did I really think that folding a¬†crisp five dollar bill into my kids’ unwashed hands every week would suddenly compel them to leave the bathroom sink gleaming after brushing their teeth, or set polished silverware over folded napkins in preparation for dinner?¬† Free money.¬† That’s precisely what they would think¬†- a concept they¬†learned after continously watching Mom and Dad slip a magic card into a money-making machine that spat out twenty dollar bills.¬† Who needs to work when there are machines like that around?

It was important to teach them a direct connection between work and earnings.¬† You work – you make money.¬† Given my lack of confidence in my ability to enforce daily duties on my children, I decided to give them the opportunity to make money based on their own individual efforts.¬† For every duty they completed, I stuck¬†a gold star (well, my initials, actually) into a box beside their name.¬† At my current rate, they earn whole dollar for every six initials they receive.¬† It’s not a lot of money, but it allows them the freedom to buy a book or video game every couple of months as reward for their efforts.

On a really good week, my oldest son will earn up to¬†twenty of my monetary signatures (his chores include doing homework and practicing piano).¬† On a slow week, he may earn only ten.¬† My youngest earns the least amount of money because – surprise – the least is expected of him.¬† The system works at its best when the kids have decided they want to purchase something.¬† Those days, I can hardly come up with enough chores¬†to rack up the dollars or, er, quarters.¬† Recently, all three boys pooled their points to purchase a Wii game.¬† It’s a good thing, too, because I would have definitely nixed the plans if they’d not had their own means of paying.¬†

While I still perform the bulk of the household chores, I’ve accomplished what I set out to do – teach my children that money does not, in fact, materialize if it we just wish it so.¬† It is earned.¬† They understand that if they want to accumulate more money, they need to put in more effort.¬† So if they’d rather play Wii than help clean, they’d better be prepared to play the same old games until next Christmas – when Santa’s feeling generous.

A full explanation of the system is at

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This Christmas Toys R Us Lets Your Fingers do the Shopping

Nov 21

The hand will be getting some extra exercise over the coming month of December as parents dip into their pockets or purses and open their wallets. ¬†But their legs might get a surprising rest.¬† That’s because Santa’s favourite workshop (read: Toys R Us) is offering customers the opportunity to shop right from their mobile devices.


That’s right.¬† Leave the wallet right where it is, Mom and Dad, and grab for the phone.¬† Just like browsing in front of the computer, customers can peruse the toy store’s offerings, select that talking doll or flashing baby toy, and buy it – from anywhere.¬† Got ten minutes between meetings?¬† Order the newest Star Wars Lego set.¬† Sitting alone in a caf?© waiting for the gals to show?¬† Take a minute to peruse the latest My Little Pony.¬† (Just when you thought hanging out at Starbucks couldn’t get more expensive!

For busy parents, this may relieve some of that pressure to prepare for the most hectic season of the year.¬† And for others, it’ll mean finding the time to finally bake that batch of gingerbread cookies they keep promising the kids.¬†

Be careful to count your pennies, though – it’s easy to forget how much one is spending when there’s no exchange at the cash register.¬† Perhaps the next holiday app will offer automatic budgetary restraints that set off alarm bells to eager fingers. ¬†But don’t expect a retail business to come up with that one any time soon.

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Movie Ratings Confusion

Jul 22

I’ve got a beef with those things called movie ratings.  Seriously, folks.  They’re confusing. They’re confusing the heck out of parents across North America.

You disagree.  I see you disagree.

There’s PG and there’s R, you say.  What else does a parent need to know?  Oh yeah, and that really nice rating called G for General.  A parent’s dream, that one.

Your certainty is the confusion.  Trust me.  You’re confused.  How do I know?  Because that guy from Rogers Video – you know him – that guy that’s always working the shift who knows every movie in the store. The one you always overhear bragging to his co-workers that he knows every line in Star Wars 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. I mean, you and I don’t know that kind of stuff ’cause we’re not the guy from Rogers Video.  Yet even THAT guy is confused about movie ratings.

I tossed Ghostbusters on the counter and asked him, Is this appropriate for kids?

Oh yeah, well, should be okay, he says.  How old are your- I cut him off… I mean, what is its rating? I ask.  Is it from the old ratings system or new ratings system?

That’s when I got the blank stare.  Is it PG or PG-13, I ask.  I’m not doing this to screw with the guy – I’m serious.  Oh, he says, you mean AA? Uh,PG.

This is troublesome. If the “Rogers Guy” doesn’t know his movie ratings, how can the world expect busy parents who are just dying for any opportunity to plunk our antsy kids in front of a talking screen for hours – to learn them.  I mean, we’re still trying to figure out the features on our cell phones.  That’s right.  Cell phone – not Blackberry. Not iPhone. That’s how behind the times WE are.

So, following is a brief overview of the movie ratings, which by the way, are completely voluntary.  That is, the movies don’t need to be rated if they don’t want to be (but it tends to help with the marketing of the movie) and the cinemas don’t need to enforce the rules.  So, your kid could probably take you to court and win if you ban him from seeing Saw V.   I mean – if that’s the kind of child you’ve raised, which is probably not the case.

Here they are:

G – General Audiences. All ages are admitted.

We parents love these movies. Often, their only offense is a lame plot, but that, thankfully, goes right over the kids’ heads.   No worries of stunting their intellectual growth, here.  No nudity, sex, drugs – all good from a parents’ standpoint.  Violence is minimal.   And some of those G movies are A-OK.   Think: Finding Nemo, Toy Story.

PG – Parental Guidance Suggested.   Some material may not be suitable for children.

What this really means is it might have some scary parts for younger kids, or some questionable language.  You’re getting into the grey zone here, where some movies may be completely suitable for six year olds (The Incredibles), and others rather terrifying (The Chronicles of Narnia:The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe).  The small amount of violence in these movies, however, are all within the context of the film.   That is – good fighting evil, rather than image after image of senseless killings.

PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned.   Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

This is what the Rating Board considers a “sterner warning.”  For some reason, they decided to do away with the older AA (Adult Accompaniment) rating and just add the number 13 beside the rather harmless PG rating.   Just an aside here – I wasn’t permitted into the theatre to see the movie Footloose when I was 13 years old (even after my own mom told the ticket girl that she ALLOWED me to see it.  Thanks for trying, Ma!)   This rating should read more like Don’t Let Your Pre-teen See This Movie Before You Get A Chance to Review It.   I know it’s a mouthful, but it’s kinda’ catchy don’t you think?   The theatres do not even require parents to accompany their children, as the AA rating did.  PG-13 is basically a friendly reminder to parents that THIS MOVIE MAY SCARE THE PANTS OFF YOUR CHILD.  Many parents do not realize there are two PG ratings that are immensely different from one another.  The Dark Knight is PG-13.  Slightly creepier than The Narnia Chronicles, dontcha think?

R- Restricted.   Children under 17 require accompanying parent or adult guardian.

Boy, times have changed.  When I was 17, I could not get into a rated R movie, regardless how many grandparents came to sit with me. No one was getting into Silence of the Lambs, back then, without some proper I.D.  We all know¬†what this rating is about.   Recent movies include Gladiator, Something About Mary.   Just your average violent or sexually explicit flicks that most kids start watching in their mid-teens.  There are actually a lot of great movies in this rating, once your kids are old enough.  But, as with all Hollywood fodder, you really need to wade through the muck to find the gold.

NC-17 – No one 17 and Under Admitted.

This is, basically, the new level for Rated R movies.   You’ve got to be 18 years old to get in.   This is also the death rating for any movie hoping to make some profits.  When’s the last time you went to a movie with this rating?  Yeah, exactly.  What the heck kind of movie gets this rating?   There’s a movie called Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!  (Apparently in the top ten grossing NC-17 films of all time).  Oh, you haven’t seen it yet?  If you have, well, keep that tidbit to yourself, wouldja?   Interestingly, Zack and Miri Make a Porno was given the NC-17 rating, but the directors appealed the decision and won the lower, more profitable R rating.   Hmmmm.   Just how trustworthy are these ratings folks?  Just whose interests are they really looking out for?  No one knows.  Their identities are a SECRET.  Seriously.  No one is allowed to know their identity so they can maintain their objectivity.  You know… Hollywood, after all, needs to be protected, right?

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Video Game Fun or Addiction?

Apr 27

My husband and I periodically discussed purchasing a Wii for our three boys.¬† They each have a DS Nintendo already, which they would gleefully play from sunrise to sundown if only we’d let them.¬† But, handily enough, they’re small enough to stow away in one hiding spot or another until their next Happy Hour – Hey boys!¬† Play for thirty minutes, and if you’re good – another thirty for free!¬†

Except for the odd fight that erupts when it’s time to shut them off, we have mutual respect for video game time.¬† Yet, still they want the Wii.¬† The questions my husband and I have to ask are… Why should they get it?¬† Why would we want another reason to argue over game time?¬† Why do they need yet another video game system?¬† That is, another excuse to not read a book, or play outside, or, uh, talk?¬† The latest study, has muddled our dilemma even more.

According to the study of 1,178 Americans, 20% of the kids were addicted to video games

According to the study of 1,178 Americans, 20% of the kids were addicted to video games.¬† One in five kids have an addiction?¬† That is a pretty alarming statistic.¬† To determine a child’s addiction, the study measured them against eleven symptoms and only those who exhibited at least six of them were deemed to be pathological gamers. ¬†The most interesting research in the study was the distinction¬†between the two groups:¬† one played just for fun, while the other “incurred damage to several areas of one’s life.”

In comparing video game players with pathological gamers, they learned that among the addicted players  -

  • They had been playing for more years, more often, and for more time (two times as much time as non-pathological players at 24 hours per week)
  • They knew more of the ratings symbols i.e., M for Mature, T for Teen
  • They got lower grades in school
  • They were more likely to report having trouble paying attention in school
  • They were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder
  • They were more likely to report feeling addicted to games and having friends they thought were addicted, too
  • They were much more likely to be involved in physical fights over the past year
  • They were more likely to have a video game system in their bedroom.

Interestingly, becoming addicted to video games had nothing to do with age, race, frequency of using the internet for homework, having a TV in the bedroom, or type of school the child attended.  Children were just as likely to exhibit addiction whether they attended private or public schools, or were home schooled.

The study concluded that video game addiction was definitely a predictor of poor performance in school.  But does the gaming cause bad grades, or is a student who struggles in school just more likely to play more video games?  The study did not know the answer to that.

All my children do very well in school, so perhaps it’s less likely my kids will lean towards addictive behaviour.¬† But is it worth taking the chance?¬† Then again, two of the symptoms of addiction are:

  • skipping homework to play video games, or
  • skipping chores to play video games.

Heck, as a kid I’d have laid still under my bed for an hour if it meant getting out of chores.¬† Isn’t ‚Äògetting out of work’ in the very¬†definition of Kid?¬† Sometimes, as parents, we just need to be guided by common sense.¬† Would I let my kids play twenty hours of games in a week?¬† Not a chance.¬† At least, I don’t think so.¬† But then, my kids are still young and relatively easy to control (aside from when we’re in the candy aisle of the grocery store.)

I’m not yet convinced we should buy a Wii, either now, or ever.¬† With it, comes a lot of responsibility for both parents and children.¬† As parents, we set the rules.¬† And the kids, unfortunately, have to abide by them – which is just as tough, if you’re looking at it through their tear-filled eyes.

Fortunately, Christmas is still more than six months away.¬† And then there’s the next Christmas, and the one after that.

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Bracelet Gives Sound Advice: Don’t Do Drugs

Mar 18

“Everybody does it.”¬† The statement is a mantra among high school kids, for whom the label of “being different” can mean a one-way ticket to loserdom.¬† It’s the defence for the slacker who wants company when he’s skipping class.¬† It’s the¬†girls waving off with indifference why they shoplift jewellery.¬† Or it’s a little nudge among buddies to push the one sober kid to smoke his first joint.¬†

This peer-on-peer power of persuasion is what parents want to combat when they tell their kids to stay away from drugs.¬† Lucky for them, they have mammoth advertising crusaders to help them achieve their anti-drug message.¬† While I was in high school in the 1980′s, the campaign to ‚ÄòJust Say No’ was introduced to curb the growing use of recreational drugs among kids.¬† As I recall, drug use was not as rampant then as it is now, and I had no trouble staying away from the stuff.¬† But then, I was never one to buckle under peer pressure, either.¬† My parents spoke openly about every vice known to humankind and did a fine job of scaring the heck out of me and my siblings if we were ever caught doing any of them.¬†

When I was about 15, my father offered some sage advice: “Don’t try them, because you might like them.”¬† Somehow that statement resonated with me.¬† I never forgot it, and I steered clear of pot, even as friends took up the habit.¬† If that same advice came from a glossy poster rather than my dad, I would have likely ignored it.¬† While the ‚ÄòJust Say No’ campaign was a valiant effort that may have had a mild effect on teen drug use, it was also great fodder for parody and practical jokes.¬† All you had to do was step into the local ‚ÄòIt Store’ to find a “Say no to crack” poster that featured a vertical inch of¬†plumber butt¬†creeping out of a pair of drooping pants.¬†

The latest anti-drug campaign to hit the high school market is by the Sound Advice Project.¬† It features a bracelet uniquely designed by the parent.¬† Here’s how it works:¬† the parent visits their web site and records a statement to remind her child to stay away from drugs (in the commercial the mother says “I believe in you.”)¬† A bracelet is then created in a design that mimics the shape of the sound wave.¬†


It’s a unique idea.¬† The strength of this campaign, however, is its emphasis on the importance of communication between parent and¬†teen, as the¬†commercial states “kids whose parents talk to them about drugs are up to 50% less likely to use drugs.”¬† The bracelet idea, while very sentimental, is a touch gimmicky.¬† Will a teenager actually wear a brightly coloured bracelet designed by their parents for the explicit purpose of telling them that they don’t want them to do drugs?¬† That’s hard to know.¬† Sure, kids value their parents’ beliefs and advice, but how many would be willing to announce their loyalty so openly?¬† Isn’t that kind of, well, dweebish?¬†¬†

The latest statistics in drug use show the tide is turning among teens.  According to Statistics Canada, usage almost doubled from 1994 to 2004 among every age group except 15-17 year olds (and those aged 65 years and older).  Among the 15 to 17 year old group, a third of them reported having used marijuana or hashish in the previous year(2003).  More current research that tracked cannabis use between 2002 and 2006 in 31 countries across (mostly) Europe and North America indicates that drug use is now actually declining among teens. 

Canada, the country with the highest rate of drug use among teens, at 30% of boys and 28% of girls, also showed the largest drop in usage.  It was down 13 percent among boys (from 2002) and almost 10 percent among girls.

Are all the advertising campaigns to fight drugs finally paying off, then?¬† Perhaps they’re helping.¬† But the research indicates the driving force in the decline has more to do with changing social habits than anything else.¬† The study found the “more frequently adolescents reported going out with their friends in the evenings, the more likely they were to report using cannabis…. Across countries, changes in the frequency of evenings spent out were strongly linked to changes in cannabis use.”¬† That is, as kids cling more and more to their online tools to communicate (email, mobile phones, social networking sites), they are cutting back on face-to-face time.¬† Less hanging out, less opportunity to light one up with the buddies.¬† Perhaps the next great campaign to end all anti-drug campaigns should just hand out cell phones and tell parents to keep their kids at home.¬† There’s got to be a better way than that, but the latest research offers two simple, yet powerful tools to help parents keep their kids away from drugs.¬† Talk to them about it (or even better – about everything) and keep them busy enough that they don’t have the¬†time or desire to spend hours just hanging out with friends every other night of the week.¬†


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