Digital media is all around us these days and my kids (age 10) are becoming more a part of it every day. I hosted a Kidoinfo conversation in 2010 Raising Kids in a DIgital World (RKIDW) to discuss the role of technology in our children’s lives.
Kids these days have greater access to technology – at home, in school, at the library and even the grocery store. So what are kids doing with these computers, smart phones and mp3 players?Â Some have their own email accounts, log onto educational sites like PBSkids, participate in social networking sites like Farmville or Club Penguin, download music onto their iPod, make videos or write their own blog. The digital world provides our children new ways to play, learn, and communicate, but what does this mean in terms of play, education, and safety?
Playgrounds provide open places where kids explore, make discoveries, and problem solve. At the same time they learn social skills, how to adapt to new situations and people, and be part of a team.Â We want it to be safe but not limiting. What may seem a potential risk may also be a source of inspiration for kids. For example, if you take all the sticks out of the park, how can they build a fort?
The digital world is another type of playground — full of creative possibilities along with potential dangers. How do we as parents and educators teach or guide our kids to use technology responsibly without banning it? How do we determine what is age-appropriate? How do we encourage our children to be active digital users rather than passive consumers? How do we control the access to the information and tools that surround our children while keeping up with new technologies? What does our own behavior teach our children? What are children learning from us and our own use of media?
Many of the ideas and resources shared during the RKIDW conversation are still relevant today. I have revised and updated what we discussed adding in my personal experiences to create the Kidoinfo list of ways to keep kids’ tech in check.
1. Know which tech-toys your kids are using and what they can do. Is the new ipod just a music player or does it also have access to the internet (including YouTube videos), electronic games and allow texting? Do your kids have access to your passwords to download apps (free and paid) and shop online?
2. Establish ground rules. Decide when your kids can use these tech devices and where. We have our family computer in the kitchen area where we spend most of our time, making it easy for us to monitor when it’s used and what’s being looked at on the computer as well as useful for streaming music and researching school projects. Our boys have time limits for using the computer, our iPhone and their iPods.
3. Teach safety. We tell our children “Do not talk to strangers in the park” and why, and we know to never leave a toddler alone in the house. We need to guide and teach our children to be safe and responsible online. Introduce tech gadgets at the appropriate age and guide children how to use them. Set parental controls, use child browsers, and bookmark approved sites.
4. Talk with your kids and join the fun. Learn about what your kids like and join them in the fun. Play the Wii or Rockband together. Have an Angry Birds tournament with the whole family. Pick a place you want to visit, find it on a map, learn more about it online then discuss how you would need to get there – boat, plane, or car? After reading a book together go online to learn about the author. Â Find projects you can do together offline-learn how to make a kite, track the moon phases, find a letterbox.
5. Set an example for your children. Be mindful of how and when you use your electronics and what message you are sending to your children about how and when to use these cool tech gadgets such as no texting or checking email while driving, do not bring the computer or iphone to dinner, and to look at Â your kids (not your phone) when talking to each other.
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