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Kids Online: How involved should parents be?

“Children need people in order to become human…. It is primarily through observing, playing, and working with others older and younger than himself that a child discovers both what he can do and who he can become—that he develops both his ability and his identity….”Urie Bronfenbrenner

CommonSenseMedia tends to go over the top in trying to motivate parents to use common sense when addressing the dangers of new technology to their children. At a recent gathering of over 200 parents and other educators in San Francisco, they opened the evening with a movie which communicates: “Watch out, or OMG will happen to your kids.” Although the video was NR, I would have rated it X for all the sex and violence it portrayed.

Is technology a force for evil or a force for good? What’s a parent to do? Although the scare tactics are unnecessary, the question is good. One parent, for instance, emailed me: “I’m concerned with the intrusion on schoolwork, the exposure to sex and violence, the creation of jaded kids instead of enthusiastic, inspired, and pro-active kids. And I’m equally concernedwith the health risks of not getting enough sleep, not getting enough time outdoors.”

That same day, however, another parent chatting with me on the playground about the assault of technology in our lives told me she is not worried: “I have always just done what I want with my kids. We practice our cursive together on the kitchen table; we play ball, go to the park, go for walks, have dinner together. I don’t have rules about it; I just make our time together what I want it to be.”

Concern about what our kids do online is a lightning rod for anxiety about how to raise children. With each new thing in our lives we have new opportunities to be involved with our children in new ways. It’s not about more or less technology, it is about the quality of our involvement with our children. Parents are still at risk for being too hands-off or too intrusive. The question isn’t more or less involvement; it’s what kind of involvement will teach our children to be good decision makers?

Parents, grandparents and teachers must all be thoughtful about what we want for our children, and go about it. TV did not ruin our lives, but it did have a negative impact when parents allowed their kids to watch so much they ignored the rest of the family. Having dinner together as a family, playing games together and going to bed early is more important than banning TV or computer time online—easier, too. Kids need adults to spend time with them to help them navigate a world that is becoming more complex every day.

When Elise (now 17 months) was four-months-old, her father installed some “baby applications” on his iPhone. She quickly learned just which buttons to push to play “her games” (see photo above). But her parents don’t let this interfere with bedtime stories, Lego-building, drawing, and playing with dolls and cars, and they certainly don’t let her take the iPhone (and all her dad’s contact list!) to bed with her. Grandmother, Susan, certainly doesn’t let an iPhone interfere with gramma time.

What should we parents do? Be involved with our children in ways that are fun for everybody, and have the courage to say, “No. Not now,Dear.”

What’s worked (or not worked) for you? Send me your comments and let’s keep the discussion going.


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2 Responses to “Kids Online: How involved should parents be?”

  1. Miranda April 6, 2010 at 7:57 pm #

    I generally have a lot of technology in my life. My parents kind of gave me free reign (within reason). But we always balanced it with family activities as well. We played games and went for walks. I think having a little freedom gave me room to develop a healthy relationship with technology where I just began to balance the two on my own. I eat meals with my family and finish my homework before I watch TV or go online. But we turn technology into a family activity as well like if there’s a show we all like we might make some popcorn and watch it together or race each other on the Wii. I think you just have to find a balance.

  2. Rick April 6, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    Excellent! Sounds like technology enriches an already full and multidimensional life, and you all keep it all in perspective. We are having a meeting on May 11 to talk about how to help kids find a balance in their lives. You are welcome to come (if you don’t have too much homework or something.) Your experiences could help some parents find the sanity they are looking for.

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