Managing Marbles

Managing Marbles March 31, 2006

We’ve instituted a new plan at our house. I totally stole the idea from my sister and, frankly, had my doubts about its effectiveness. So far it has worked shockingly well.

Watching the curious phenomenon of this plan’s implementation in our household has been very funny and, I got to thinking, rather instructive. Here’s the deal.

Each member of our family under the age of 13 (except the dog) receives 21 marbles (okay, really they are beads because I couldn’t find marbles at CVS) every Sunday night. These marbles go into a small container labeled with each person’s name. Each marble represents one half hour of television, computer or X-box.

(Here. Let me do the math for you. That adds up to 10 ½ hours of electronic media per week. If you disapprove I don’t care. We’re doing the best we can.)

Each under-13 member of the family can spend his or her marbles anyway he or she likes during the week. At the end of the week any leftover marbles may be redeemed for .25¢ apiece.
There are, as you might imagine, some accompanying rules:

  1. You may not sell or trade marbles, use extortion, torture, bribery or any other means to acquire or hand off marbles. What you get on Sunday night is what you get.
  2. Each person must redeem a marble for each half hour of television viewing, computer using or X-box playing. (In other words, if your sister is watching That’s So Raven you cannot sit in the room pretending to read while at the same time watching for free. Even if you swear you’d never be caught dead watching That’s So Raven.)
  3. You have complete control over and responsibility for your marbles. What that means is: we’re handing you control over the way you spend your time and the choices you make. What that also means is: don’t lose your marbles.

Mark and I had thought that the announcement of this new system would spur utter outrage. Luckily, either the math skills in our house are sub-par (the practicalities of the matter are that, even if the kids spend 10 ½ hours a week using electronic media, that’s—sadly—far less than they have been doing—those X-box games and visits to can add up, you know), or the kids were feeling overwhelmed by electronic media out of control, too.

Whatever the reason, watching the new system work has caused quite a bit of amusement on the part of the parents.

Here’s what we’ve noticed so far: Heated corporate mathematical calculations with three little heads bent over the kitchen counter trying desperately to figure out how much money could be made if one were to give up X-box for the ENTIRE week; conversations we’ve been dying to overhear forever, like: “Hey, you want to play hide and seek outside?”; formerly reluctant readers going through bookshelves annoyed because we seem to be missing one of the Box Car Children books; funny notes posted to the bottom of the marble containers that read, “Don’t Forget! Saving for an I-Pod Nano!”.

Strangely enough this new system, while originally meant to be limiting in its enforcement, has suddenly become empowering. Everybody has the tools to make choices; there is no threat of “losing TV privileges,” the severity of which depends solely on how mad you made your mother (instead you’ll just have to hand over a marble and wait a little longer for your I-Pod . . . .); all of the other options of life suddenly appear so much more compelling (who knew our backyard could be so fun?).

What have Mark and I learned from this?

Well, so far we’ve had a whole lot of fun watching our kids figure this out (who knew dreaming up interesting disciplinary tools could be so much fun?). We’ve enjoyed observing non-coerced math practice. We feel strangely successful (if only in brief spurts) at this task of parenting.

And we’re reminded that learning to make the most of what you’ve got can be applied successfully even if you happen to be older than age 13.

You might imagine that an additional perk to this new system is that Mark and I have had much more access to the television and computer (I’m currently thinking about learning how to play Star Wars on the X-box). The question has come up, though, of why it is Mark and I do not have marbles to pay when we want to use electronic media.

Employing our clearly exceptional parenting skills we patiently explained that, since we’ve been parents for over 12 years, our marbles were lost a long time ago.

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