My Reward Board: Virtual Chore Chart Boosts Kids’ Financial Savvy

mrblogo_web_small.jpgNag. Nag. Nag. Whether you’re dishing it out or on the receiving end, it can feel like you’re stuck in a repetitive cycle like Bill Murray in the film, “Groundhog Day.”

“How many times have I asked you to pick up those clothes?” When “in a sec” turns into three days later, there’s bound to be a power struggle and some privileges headed out the door if you’re not in the permissive parenting camp.

One solution? My Reward Board, an interactive goal-setting program for behavior modification, complete with virtual piggy for instilling money sense. Without sounding like a treatise in Piaget’s constructivism, I decided to offer my tween yet another “media lab rat opportunity” to download this free trial for a couple weeks.

My Reward Board hails from the original creator of the children’s educational Jump Start software series, Barton Listick, who plans to release it in retail stores by year’s end. (Right now it’s available directly from their site via CD-ROM or download)

Since my daughter was one of millions who loved that series, I figured what the hey, give it a whirl and see if she’d outgrown the ‘edutainment’ format of applause, bells and whistles.

Guess what? Child behavior 101…positive reinforcement works for tweens, too!

She’s been bugging me about an allowance for chores, and I’ve been instilling money sense and financial savvy at every turn, so this was a slam dunk ‘mashup’ in media and goal gizmos. Can My Reward Board transfer cause and effect consequences onto an entertainment screen and let parents off the squawking parrot perch of repetitious reminders? If so, I’m in.

So far, the self-discipline of using their tracking tools seems to have softened the blow of behavioral missteps. It’s fun when the animated gizmos cheer, checking off a completed task, but it also makes kids “own it” and deal with the financial/demerit based outcomes of their actions, when they ‘forget’ responsibilities. (like changing the rabbit’s litterbox as I shovel CareFresh for the umpteenth time, ahem!)

I was concerned this media would be another hackneyed task board with skill sets already developed or ones my daughter couldn’t relate to, but here’s the beauty…it’s fully customizable. (you can bet your bippy that bunny box is now a line item on the chore chart!)

Families can come up with their own ground rules, motivators, allowance, and demerits, while the cute little oinker even allows for savings goals, inoculating kids with some serious financial savvy.

For instance, you can set the percentage of task completion to 100% OR give some wiggle room, withhold allowance completely for nasty behavior OR set up a point accrual system, kids can choose favorite outings and perks earning bonuses and extras OR save up coupons in their reward chest to get rid of some of the ‘immediate gratification’ dynamic out there.

Personally, I’m happy to see ANY positive attempts at money media used to engage kids.

Right now, rampant consumerism teamed with media’s gratification-driven dollars and cents messaging makes for a toxic pairing…and the stereotyped depictions of kids aren’t helping either, whether it’s shop-aholic shallowness and mallrats, or math team kids cast as bespectacled brainiacs and social misfits.

Shaping Youth is hoping to recruit Danica McKellar into our consortium as a media role model for kids, as her math prowess alone is fabulous. She has a new book coming out this summer called “Math Doesn’t Suck” which we’ll be covering here for certain.

I say ANY time we can “use the power of media for positive change” to deliver an effective message to children, whether it’s via web, or celeb, we need to support it… So media like this digital chore chart fits well into Shaping Youth’s positive picks.

Granted, I do have concerns we’re ‘at risk’ of rewarding kids like Pavlov’s dogs for every chore and task completed (like the sports snack syndrome)…So…

I confronted their CEO & Founder, Barton Listick about the new studies on OVER-praising and rewards-based overkill, mentioned in this video from an earlier Shaping Youth article.

He responded:

“The New York Magazine article and related studies don’t really indicate a problem with over-praising, but with how and when praise is given…Praise given for a child’s inherent abilities, or vacuous praise given to boost self-esteem, can have negative results. But praise given for good effort and behavior (which is the approach adopted by the My Reward Board system) leads to earned self-esteem and real character development…

“Kids get many “goodies” from their parents (on a daily basis) but aren’t taught about the value of money or the importance of meeting goals and obligations…we counter this trend by letting children see (and track) what they owe to the family, rather than what the parents “owe” them.”

If media like this can reach kids at younger ages as sort of a counter-marketing tool for financial incompetence or slacker entitlement (depicted so often in the media) then it makes solid sense to me.

Right now it seems consumer-driven materialism is rampant, yet kids don’t have the financial skills sets and responsibilities to navigate the media waters they’ve already plunged into…

Case in point: How many texting teens are fiscally responsible for their cell phone use?

And what about prepaid cards, gift cards, and credit cards being marketed at younger and younger ages?

Are parents using these new media and marketing opportunities as training wheels for real life or are they just snagging the latest and greatest and giving junior carte blanche?

I posed these questions to CEO & Founder of My Reward Board, (MRB) Barton Listick in the interview that follows.

At the end, you’ll find a few more media and marketing resources to make money matters fun. As we’ve found at Shaping Youth…if you innovate to educate, skill sets stick.

Shaping Youth: Do kids have “Affluenza” with consumer-driven materialism or is it just media/mktg. hype?

MRB: Kids today have a somewhat bigger appetite for consumer goods, but the more pronounced change is the increasing importance of brands and trends. In other words, a child’s satisfaction (and social status) depends on not just having a new pair of shoes, but the “right” brand of new shoes. One of the biggest contributors to this problem is the widening pervasiveness of all types of media (including new media) in our children’s lives.

Shaping Youth: How does your allowance/piggy bank incentivize kids?

MRB: Based on my experience developing the Jump Start line of edutainment CD-ROMs, we make extensive use of sound effects and animation to heighten motivation….The piggy bank squeals with delight when a coin is deposited, and a cast of happy faces do a disco dance when the child’s saving goal is met…

Families have widely varying approaches to allowance, so we give parents lots of flexibility on how that feature should work. Allowance can optionally be connected to chores and goals, so that allowance is automatically withheld if a certain chore completion percentage is not met…this way, the program reinforces the idea that the child has certain obligations to the family as a whole.

Shaping Youth: Can you respond to kids’ media messaging surrounding financial behavioral cues? (e.g. girls’ ‘born to shop’/using daddy’s credit card/ ‘going broke’ tees) Does your media counter-market these stereotypes/messages in any way?

MRB: As the father of three young daughters I find myself having to counter these ridiculous and negative messages practically everyday! In all forms of media, from pop songs to apparel, girls are taught that shopping as a pastime, without regard to need or financial means is expected and even admirable behavior. My wife and I are especially strict about not bringing these messages into our home.

My Reward Board helps by not presenting shopping as a pastime or entertainment, but as the result of (and reward for) positive behavior. The pleasure of shopping is still delivered, but it’s made more meaningful because the experience was earned. Also, we make no gender-based assumptions about how the program will be used by girls versus boys.

Shaping Youth: How does your product use positive reinforcement to develop real world life skills?

MRB: One critical skill is the ability to set and meet goals. We:

1.) Guide children to clearly identify their goals

2.) Provide a motivating mechanism that allows kids to measure their success towards reaching their goals

3.) Award rewards that reinforce the value of meeting goals.

The same principal of guidance and reward is employed in the piggy bank module to encourage savings and teach the value of money. The rewards themselves are fully customizable, and include many “zero cost” items such as “Choose dinner at home”, “Stay up late”, and “Play a board game with the family”.

Shaping Youth: Are prepaid online programs geared more for teens vs. tweens? How does MyReward Board differ?

MRB: We’ve found that for the pre-teen and early-teen age brackets parents are not very comfortable with their kids’ independent use of ‘credit cards.’ They appreciate the fact that My Reward Board gives them approval over the rewards that are being awarded.

Shaping Youth: What is your opinion on prepaid cards for kids to use as financial training tools? (e.g. VisaBuxx, or the Allow Card, etc.)

MRB: My Reward Board comes directly out of my 20+ years experience in using technology to teach kids, so education is the first priority…Prepaid cards are being offered by large financial institutions whose future earnings depend on the continuing rabid use of consumer credit. I don’t want to sound too cynical, but it’s hard to imagine that responsible credit card usage is their primary goal.

Shaping Youth: Can you compare/contrast MyReward Board with allowance/prepaid hybrid sites like PayJr. Com? Are there others that apply?

MRB: There are two key differences. The first is that My Reward Board is designed to motivate children in various ways, not just through allowance or rewards. This takes the form of applause sound effects, happy faces that offer encouragement, certificates of achievement, and star points. The second difference is the amount of customization and control that we give parents to tailor the entire system, including allowance and rewards, to suit their own parenting style and philosophy.

Shaping Youth: What are your favorite financial literacy sites for kids? Any there other book/game/media recommendations you would share?

MRB: My family recently discovered a wonderful board game called Stock Rush that teaches about the stock market, and we also greatly enjoy a game called Wits and Wagers that’s about numbers and estimating. I’d also recommend MoonJar for a program to teach financial values and encourage savings.

Shaping Youth: Is Jump Start.org related to the Knowledge Adventure Jump Start products?

MRB: JumpStart.org isn’t related to the JumpStart line of kid’s educational CD-ROMs that I helped developed, but it looks like a worthy endeavor.

Shaping Youth: I have to tell you, as a parent, any motivation I can muster that leads to less nagging is a solid find…so good luck with it!

MRB: Thank you for the important work that you do, Amy, and for the opportunity to speak to your many readers.

Kids’ Money Matters: Financial Literacy

My Reward Board ages 5-12; interactive customizable chore & finance tracking tool

JumpStart.org: National Financial Coalition; Reality Check for Kids

Global Stock Market: Free, realistic game simulation

Moneyopolis: Online game; probono effort by Ernst & Young for middle schoolers

LifeSmarts.org: National Consumers League/high schoolers

Independent Means website & products by Joline Godfrey, including Raising Financially Fit Kids, No More Frogs to Kiss: 9 Ways to Give Economic Power to Girls etc.

New Moon Money: Book written by girls for girls, from New Moon Publishing

Save for America: School savings curriculum w/online integration

Moon Jar: Award-winning financial literacy toolkit, book, products

Hot Company: “The money game with attitude”

Prosperity4Kids: Financial training products, programs & tools with resource links

Kids.Gov: Official Kids Portal for the U.S. Government on all things ‘money’

Sense & Dollars Online game; middle/high schoolers

Know of more? Any tried and true faves? Ping me…Thanks, Amy

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Comments

  1. This sounds great! As the parent of a tween and a teen, this will give me a good tool to use on the computer. We have done paper systems in the past (Discovery Toys “Bank It”), which have worked nicely. However, the kids are always on the PC, so this will fit in well with their interests.

    I love your blog, Amy. Great stuff – keep it up!

  2. Appreciate the feedback; especially in these early fledgling days of our nonprofit, when ‘keep it up’ is hard to do without some clones (or figuring out all our funding channels!) This too, will come…We dove into multiple projects a bit ahead of our infrastructure, so we’re still trying to catch up with ourselves. Thanks for the kind words! Every bit helps…Amy

  3. Hi there!
    I ran across this page while searching for something totally different… BUT I have to mention that I am the distributor of a fantastic chore and reward system called “I Did My Chores”. It was one of those “I liked the product so much as a parent of three boys, that I bought the company” things!

    It does not use technology or media… which I find to be most effective. The key thrust of the system is to enable to kids to take responsibility for their own tasks and chores around the house. Adding a computer or some other media device in the way of the child’s direct ability to interact with the chore/reward system creates additional burden on the parent… in the same way it is too much of a burden on the parent (often) to keep creating and re-creating task sheets and stickers, etc.

    What I (and the many customers I have) have found is that there is something about the tactile/kinesthetic feedback that kids really respond to.(and actually so do adults… how nice we feel when we put that check mark next to our “done” items on our list!) Some of my customers actually describe the addition of I Did My Chores to their household as “life-changing.” I could not resiste letting you know about this… check out the website if interested! http://www.ididmychores.net I enjoyed reading on your website! I share your views.

    Best regards,
    Jeff

  4. Thanks, Jeff, I checked out your “I DID MY CHORES” site!

    As a parent and ‘resident nag’ I’ll take ANY HELP I CAN to put the focus on kids’ responsibilities, online, offline or in-between!!!

    Magnets, door hangers, software, check off charts, bring ’em on…

    Appreciate your comment and thoughts. Good luck to us ALL tackling this conundrum.

  5. Its amazing to me how many ways one might go about investing your money. I’ve found for me that best solution is both risky and low risk stocks. I normally put about half of my investments into low risk mutual funds that grow over time plus the other half in high risk high gain stocks. I recently got into day trading and I found that software stock picks are the most reliable as they can automate a process that I cant do quickly enough. The blokes over at PrometheusFinancials.Com have a great system. You might want to check them out!

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