teens

The bizarre but brilliant 'points system' my parents used to raise four kids.

Let me preface this post by saying my upbringing was wonderful. I had all of the things a child in the ‘burbs could dream of: sparky flare jeans, a Nintendo 64 and a netball goal ring in the backyard.

My childhood, thanks to my parents, was nothing short of idyllic. Ask any of my three siblings – midwife Claire, 26, doctor-in-the-making Evelyn, 21, and teaching student Tom, 18 – and they’ll tell you the same. We were loved, and we were lucky. Bloody lucky.

We were also good kids. But was our upbringing conventional? Uh. No.

Over the years, our parents (mostly Dad) experimented with all kinds of quirky methods to keep us in line, but none was more impressive than the ‘points system’, which was devised and rolled out when I was on the cusp of adolescence.

Yep – you read that right – my family operated on a points system. 

The aim was to teach us about discipline, consequences and reward. As a moody tween I hated it. But now? I think it’s a little bit genius.

Here’s how it worked:

Everything existed on a scale between +20 and -20 points. Starting on zero, each child would be awarded points for good behaviour (saying please and thank you might be worth one point, offering to take the bins out might be worth three), or could have points deducted for bad behaviour (being nasty to each other, not making our beds, complaining about having meatloaf for dinner, etc etc etc).

LISTEN: One dad’s clever way to keep kids off screens. (Post continues…)

With a magnet, we secured a running points tally to the fridge, eagerly observing Evelyn dipping towards -20 again (she was the defiantly messy ‘I don’t brush my hair’ child) or jealously notice Claire rising towards +20 for the umpteenth time (she was the ‘I’m in the advanced music class for playing the recorder’ child).

Because here’s the real kicker: If you reached -20, you were “banned from screens” for an entire week. That’s phones, iPods, TVs, computers, everything. You know, modern day torture. But if you reached +20? You were handed a crisp $20 note, the 12-year-old equivalent of being gifted an exotic private island.

While Evelyn would chuck a royal hissy fit whenever she’d reach -20 (there were many, many times) and yell something like “WELL MY CALCULATOR HAS A SCREEN, GUESS I CAN’T DO MY MATHS HOMEWORK”, the points system gave her something brilliant: time.

ADVERTISEMENT
Evelyn (left) and me (right).

And with that time? Ratty-haired, scraggly 10-year-old Evelyn read every Harry Potter novel cover to cover. She read and she read and she read. Nine years down the track she also ended up with the top Year 12 English exam score in the state of Victor--

Okay look, that's almost definitely a total coincidence, and I'm sure Evelyn would've found other time to read the Harry Potter books without the points system. But still. The girl is smart, has very good hair maintenance skills, and is a medicine student. Maybe, just maybe, a teeny tiny part of that is because she never had any goddamn screen time when she was 10.

Then there was Tom, who never got to +20, but did fall below -20 once when he slammed the PlayStation controller into the couch.

As for me, I was the only child to hover between reward and consequence - never quite reaching that elusive 20 bucks, or dreaded week without technology.

When I spoke to Dad about his parenting creation this week, he did seem pretty chuffed with his work ('look at you guys now!' was plastered all over his face), but did have on regret: "I made it too hard for you guys to reach +20."

Perhaps that is true. We were all relatively well-behaved but, with the exception of Claire, seriously struggled to climb above +5. If he had his time again, Dad told me, he'd probably adapt the rules a little bit to reward our good behaviour more.

Like any of my parents' whacky parenting techniques, the points system didn't last forever. Within a year, we had moved on.

Still, 11 years have passed. And I don't think I'll ever forget it.

Did your family implement weird parenting rules growing up?

00:00 / ???