At this time of year when Santa Claus is making his list and checking it twice, parents are working hard to make sure their kids aren’t acting naughty, but are being nice.
Is This Thing On?, or ITTO, is our Wednesday column showing how everyday people use technology in unexpected ways.
Parents often find traditional reward methods to get their children to do household chores aren’t working too well. The answer might be as close as their smartphone or other mobile device, since a slew of “reward chart” apps have hit the scene, promising to bring the practice of motivating kids into the digital age and get thier rooms clean, to boot.
EpicWin, a chore tracking app for the iPod and iPhone, uses the challenge of an adventure computer game to motivate kids to complete tasks.
Children pick an avatar and tackle different “quests,” or chores, which have varied point values and can be set to repeat daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. EpicWin integrates the chore with battles and rewards children for completing their “quest” or task, a design feature which may motivate kids who prefer to think of chores as a video game.
Other apps provide more substantial rewards. IPod apps like Chore Rewards and Chore Hero can track more than one person on a device and provide a system for earning points that can be redeemed for cash rewards.
Many of these apps also can reward good behavior like expressing gratitude, sharing with a sibling, and doing homework or other life skills a parent wants to stress.
Some have a retro-feel, like Sticker Quest, which parents and children play together. The $1 app helps create daily chores and an everyday task list. Kids then collect stickers and unlock new characters as they check off items on the list.
There are others that incorporate basic finances, like the free, iOS Kids Allowance and Rewards app. Parents can set up accounts to track allowance and reward points. The reward points tracker creates an extra incentive to complete chores by establishing a specific event or item the child is working towards.
Also, having individual accounts can let the kids see their progress at a glance and possibly create some good-spirited competition with siblings.
Finally, IlearnedThat, promoted as “not your typical star chart,” lets parents take a picture of the reward their child is trying to earn and the app transforms the picture into a 3D jigsaw puzzle. As the child completes tasks for the reward, he or she earns a piece of the puzzle, which is divided into the number of goals needed to get the item. When the puzzle is complete, they win the prize.
Of course, there are those who don’t believe in rewards for kids at all. Brandi Davis, author of “O.K. I’m a Parent, Now What?” is one.
“I encourage parents not to pay or gift,” Davis says. “Homework is part of their school life, it is their responsibility. If they won’t do it, then they get an F.”
Davis thinks if parents give kids things in order to get results, then kids will expect gifts and not do favors without them, which is a bad lesson. The author is joined by others like John Rosemond who wrote a column on his astonishment at parents who would use apps to entice children to do household chores.
Rosemond calls adoption of these types of programs “Parenting of the Absurd,” saying the practice erodes good citizenship, creates an aura of entitlement, and marginalizes children’s household contributions.
“A child should do chores because his parents tell him to do them, period,” said Rosemond. “There should be no rewards for this other than the reward of being a member of a family that is blessed to live in a single-family dwelling that is heated in the winter, affords protection from weather.”
The larger debate over the parenting practice of rewarding kids for completing useful chores will likely continue, but the addition of digital tools to bring the battered sticker chart of old to the modern age provides many options for those who embrace the idea. Besides, it might be a nice change of pace from the seasonal, “Santa is coming, you better be good,” refrain.