I’ll be straightforward: I was not told I would spend most of my dad life turning off lights that my kids had left on. I never knew it was going to be like this.
Yet here we all are, dads collectively, even the many wastrels I know, manically rattling around our homes, flicking off light switches. Light-leaving-on is a matter of generational divide; it is, the old and wise of us claim, a marker of the younger set’s sloth, excess, and apathy.
But the real problem is that we have to keep turning off those lights. Nothing works to communicate our message that this is bad.
It becomes an age-old question of executive branch power, of enforcement. It is the classic problem of behavior modification. Parenting has made me question, and I say this somberly, with a straight face, the existence of a punishment-based criminal justice system. Basically, once kids have chosen a path of behavior — “I’m getting that cookie no matter what” — nothing seems to work to get them off that path. It can be disheartening. It makes me think how right Albert Camus was.
Thinking like this, fixating on the electrical gluttony of youth, this is where you could become a wacko.
Should you resort to incessant yelling? Should you tape light switches into the off position? Unscrew the bulbs? Beat your children with a Bill Cosby-esque flesh-flaying eight-foot-wide belt? Charge them money for every light often on, a strategy recommended often online. (Of course, this is another surefire way to make yourself suffer, as who do they come to when they’re out of pizza money? You.)
I tried some of these things (you can guess which ones). None of them worked to solve the problem, and, worse, most of those approaches just made me madder. So I accidentally came to my method, something I thought would make a point in a neat, clean way.
Every time I see a light on, for every bulb in that light fixture, the offending child — which, for ease of enforcement, is any child in the vicinity — has to do a pushup. The pushup number can easily be around 20 or 25 when I come home from work at night.
For some reason, they accept this punishment with relatively good cheer. They complain a little, but the offense is so obvious — that light right there is in fact on! — and the punishment so clear, that they just do it. The only downside is that they are now trying to catch me leaving a light on to return the punishment. (I don’t care; I’ll do my pushups. But I never leave a light on. Ever. I turn lights off in rooms while I’m still in them. Even after the forgetfulness induced by a full night at the Park Tavern, I still remember to turn off lights.)
So, they do fulfill the punishment, diligently. But your real questions probably revolve around punishment efficacy, not adherence: Does it encourage them to turn off the lights?
Okay, no. It has not. I still simmer when I see lights on, yet at least I feel less enraged because I’m doing something. And, dammit, as I watched them lined up and cranking out their 14 pushups the other day after work (backs straight, chins up – it’s a thing of beauty) I realized that my electric bill may not budge, but I’m going to have the most powerful kids in the universe.