television apparatus from 1950Raising Gaybies:
Screen Time? Not Until Our Kids Do THIS! 


When parents come over our house for a party, it’s not the nearly century old brick walls that garner their attention. Not the fireplace where a 16-year-old was married off by a wealthy oil baron, nor the LP records of a once prominent Dallas preacher hidden in the basement that causes a befuddled look upon their faces. It is the Good and Bad Choice Board for our kids hanging next to the kitchen. One parent even wanted a picture of it!

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Years before having children, Michael and I were fervent watchers of the show “Supernanny.” A young, tightly wound,  plucky Mary Poppins look-alike would attack the pernicious children and their parents to get them on the road to parenting nirvana. That’s the place where parents are always content and the kids behave like soldiers. A fantasy, yes! But as parents, we need to have a rubric for setting our kids on a guided path to adulthood.

For the most part, our children are well behaved, until there is a piece of candy that is indivisible by 2 – then the hackles go up and the fangs come out. Therein lies the Good Choice/Bad Choice Board. When we started the board, it was meant to structure behavior – like no hitting – no biting – and no peeing on the floor. Yes that really happened. Once the kids smartened up and knew the rules – the board morphed into a “Chore” board. The kids were required to set and clean up the dinner table as well as tidy up the mess they made in the playroom. How quickly they mastered those simple skills – and it appeared no matter how Sisyphean the task – they were always able to conquer it.

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I think frustration set in – I became tired of thinking up new rules – so I thought about it for a long time and said – the kids have to learn – but more importantly “learn to earn.” So forget the litany of rules and guidelines – they should learn to think “on the fly” how to craft a good decision and eschew the bad decisions. Ultimately the consequences of their decisions should steer them toward the light.

So here is how our board works – first you need a “prize.” Not candy – something juicy! To quote the infamous fictional character Hannibal Lecter – “we covet what we see every day.” Yes, the TV! TV is banned in our house – it must be earned. So, each week our kids need to earn 10 happy faces to watch 90 minutes of TV.   They can earn happy faces for making their beds, helping feed the dogs, being nice to each other – you get the drift. They get sad faces for doing things wrong. At the end of the week we add up the happy faces and subtract the sad faces (see – we are working math into this too) and the total is their score. If the kids get above 10 they win – below 10 they lose.

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Magically, this gave us the empirical power we needed. The kids had a goal and the prize. The nice thing for parents is that the board prizes can be changed – use for privileges like use of a cell phone, going out to a movie. etc. The rules become less rote memory and build a strong foundation of work ethic, healthy competition, and a goal oriented approach.

I know this may sound like “Tiger Papa” – but you know what – it works for us – we’d rather the kids earn some substantive lessons now – because the board room is the “real world.”

How about you? How do you prompt your kids to make good choices? How do you monitor screen time in your house?



Bennett Cunningham is a Bankruptcy Attorney licensed in Texas and is a former Investigative Reporter for the CBS Television Station in Dallas. Mr. Cunningham has garnered 7 Regional Emmy Awards, including the Best Investigative Reporter in Texas 2 years in a row, as well as several National Awards for his exposés into the mismanagement of taxpayer dollars and government waste. Mr. Cunningham is also admitted to practice in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Texas and the US Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Texas.  He is a member of the State Bar of Texas, The National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorney’s and the American Bar Association – and most importantly, a stay-at-home dad.