New Trend Not About How Much, But What TV Children Watch

September 16, 2008

I have long been a proponent for television.  While the party line has been that it will rot your brain, I have always thought that it could be a useful tool in childhood development when applied correctly.  Finally, the experts have come around to my way of thinking.

The recent New York Times article “Limiting, and Watching, What Children Watch” talks about the vast media smorgasboard available to children today.

Is there any hope for a balanced meal?

Yes, say experts on children and the media, as long as parents teach children to make good choices. Instead of talking only about time limits – the pediatricians’ academy recommends limiting screen time to one to two hours a day – researchers are zeroing in on trouble spots and taking content into account. New guidelines are taking shape: Keep the television and computer out of the child’s bedroom, don’t be afraid to set limits, pay attention to what appears on screen and how different ages respond to it, and encourage children to think critically about what they see.

I couldn’t have said it better. I have long argued it’s not how much TV children watch, but watch they watches and what else they do.

As a big TV addict myself, I’ve never been good at limiting the number of hours my kids watch TV.

Instead I’m a strict about what they watch – educational television.  They spend most of their TV time on shows on Disney Playhouse and Noggin.  

We have lots of discussions and activities around their favorite shows.  If it’s a show with questionable content or a delicate issue (we watch one show about the race riots in the 60s), we watch it together and then talk about the issue. 

Here’s an article I wrote how you can reinforce what these shows teach with additional activities and conversations.  And how these actions also teach your children there is more to their world of interest that what’s on the television.

And finally we balance our TV time with lots of other activities that don’t involve the TV at all like gym class, art class, play dates and field trips.

The same can be said of the Internet.  Don’t be afraid to let your children get on it.  Instead teach the how useful it can be and monitor their usage.  Sites like Disney, PBS and others offer educational games. 

I recently discovered a website called Kids Off the Couch that incorporates television and the Internet with educational activities.

So instead of banning television or the net, use it to your advantage.

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The Challenges of ‘Growing Up Online’

January 23, 2008

I tuned into the PBS documentary “Growing Up Online” last night on Frontline for two reasons.  As a member of Generation X, I’m just on the outskirts of this technologically suave generation and am striving to keep up with them.  And as a mother of toddlers, I will be faced with raising children smack in the middle of this generation.

When the Internet came out and everyone wanted to regulate it, I remember thinking why?  It’s a form a free speech.  Let people say what they want and if I don’t want to hear it, I won’t visit their site.

But now the thought of my twins venturing online has me freaking out.  How can I ensure their safety?  How can I control/monitor what they see and do?  How can I prevent them from making stupid mistakes that become a permanent part of the World Wide Web for all to see and mock?

But I think the show described it best when it talked about the Internet as a social network for kids.  When I was a kid, we hung out at the mall or the rec center.  My parents hung out at the malt shop (I’m guessing).  For this generation, the hang out is electronic.

According to the documentary, kids go online to express them, to complain about parents and to communicate with each other.  All the things I did at my favorite hang out.

And just like my parents had concerned about me at the mall, I’ll have concerns about my children on the Internet.  But instead of blowing these fears out of proportion, parents need to adjust with the times to appropriately address the issues.

And to do so, parents need to understand the terminology and the reason for their child’s interest in the Internet.

The documentary showed some teenage girls defining “friends.”  They would have contests to see who had the most friends, numbering in the thousands, on MySpace.  But according to these girls, they understood that they only “really knew” about 200 of these so-called friends and only about 50 of them were “best friends.”

I don’t know about you, but growing up I had one, maybe two, best friends.  And I’m not sure that I’ve ever really known 200 people. 

In addition, according to the show, these kids are more comfortable being more public with their lives.  Since we live in a world where anyone’s private live could end up on the nightly news and the escapades of the latest pop princess is headline material, it’s no surprise to me that today’s kids aren’t shying away from the spotlight.

The times have changed since I was a kid and the Internet is new territory for us all. 

The documentary called the Internet “the new wild West,” adding that no one is really in charge. 

Therefore we as parents, family members, friends and teachers of today’s youth need to help guide them through this new terrain.

I think that stay-at-home-mom Evan Skinner expressed my fears the best when she said that she wasn’t afraid that the Internet would make her kids bad, but that her good kids would make a bad decision on the Internet and would have to pay for it permanently.

Kids don’t realize the impact of their decisions, the consequences of their actions and the overall permanence of the Internet.

If as a teen I had decided to flash a group of friends, once the act was over it was done.  There was no digital photography, no camera phones and no YouTube.  I could do something stupid and the knowledge of my act was limited to who was ever in proximity of me and lasted only until somebody else did the next stupid stunt.

Today, if a teenage girl flashes a group of friends, photos and YouTube videos are on the net before she can pull her shirt down.  And while it might seem like fun and games when she’s 16, how will she feel when that photo or video is still being viewed when she’s trying to run for Congress 10 years later?  Will she still be happy when her future husband stumbles across her hijinks on the Internet?  Or her own children?

Once it’s on the Internet there is no turning back.

Aside from this big lesson, the other issues facing teens and their parents on the Internet are the same issues that have faced them in the past, but just with a twist.

Cheating

The Internet offers another way for students to take the easy road when doing homework.  While Spark Notes might be the latest craze among those behind in their literature class, the concept is not new.  We had Cliff Notes when I was in school.

But schools are adapting and adjusting to the newest way to cheat.  According to the documentary, some teachers are requiring writing assignments be done in class to ensure its original work.  Others accept assignments through turnitin.com, a site that scans for plagiarism

Image Issues

The documentary gave several examples of teens who escaped the feeling of not fitting in by recreating themselves with online alter egos.

One father who had made his daughter delete her online site later let her put it back up after he discovered that she created that online identity because it’s where she felt comfortable.  I’m not sure I agreed with his decision entirely, but I do support the idea that we need to talk to our kids to find out why they are doing it.

The Internet also lets some teens bond with others in support of an addiction.  The example given was a girl battling anorexia.  Rather than finding help she dove deeper into the obsession getting encouragement and tips from other pro-anas.

My mother recently told me about a teen who was gambling big money on ball games through the Internet.

Bullying

The last story of the documentary was the sad story of Ryan Halligan.  Ryan was not only a victim of school yard bullying, but of cyber bullying.  Other kids would start online rumors about his sexuality.  Some mocked and threatened him online.  One girl flirted with him and then told him it was all a big joke.

I can’t even imagine how psychologically defeating that had to be, especially for tween caught in that awkward age of adolescence.

But the bullying isn’t the sadist part of the story.  Without his parents’ knowledge, Ryan began an online friendship with another boy where they talked about suicide.  He visited “how to” sites and one site that let you plug in your personality traits and it told you the best way to kill yourself.

This story was the scariest of all.  But his parents openly admitted and obviously regretted that they didn’t know, or try to know, what he was doing online.

I think that’s the best thing a parent can do – get involved in a child’s Internet experience and teach them how to use it responsibly.  Skinner suggested putting the computer out in the open so that you could monitor their use.

Predators

According to the survey done for this show, one is seven kids reported being sexually solicited online.  But most of these were discounted as teenage boys saying “hey baby” as opposed to a real predator.

The show also said that most kids that got email messages from people they didn’t know just deleted them.

It reported that most online meetings were when the kids went looking for them, adding that if a child is engaging in risky behavior online, they are probably engaging in even riskier behavior offline.

Kids don’t see the internet as something separate they go to.  Instead it’s just a continuation of their life, according to the documentary.

The show called the Internet “the greatest generation gap since the advent of rock ‘n roll.”

And as parents, teachers, friends and families it is our responsibility to bridge that gap.

What ways do you suggest doing so?

You can watch “Growing up Online” at PBS.com.


Where do your kids go on the web?

September 4, 2007

My twins are only two, but they are already fascinated with the computer.  While I’m extremely proud of their interest in technology, I’m also a little afraid. 

Both of my children love to get on my lap while I’m working and play with the mouse or pretend to type.  They love to get e-cards from Grandma.  And they like looking at the Playhouse Disney site with Mommy because it has all their favorite characters.

My husband and I have discussed it and think its time for the twins to get their own computer. Nothing fancy.  Just a basic model, making even a refurbished one.  But what computer is not the difficult decision.  Besides, some learning games we buy, where else can my toddlers go safely on the computer?

The Internet opens up a whole wide world of information and activities, but it also opens up a world of creepiest scum out there peddingling stuff I don’t want my children to be exposed to.

I recently came across this list of 50 Sites for Kids that I’ll be bookmarking.  Some of them are still to old for the twins, but they’ll be handy in the future.  Like the list of sites for help with homework and news.

For toddlers, I think these are my top choices:

Playhouse Disney — Games and activities featuring all the twins favorite characters — Little Einsteins, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Handy Manny and My Friends, Tigger and Pooh.

Seussville — Games revolving around our favorite rhyming author.

Sesame Street — Games involving the lovable muppets from Sesame Street.  Includes printable coloring pages.

Nick Jr. — The twins can enjoy activities with Blue, Dora, Diego, The Backyardigans and Wonder Pets.

Boomrang — I want my children to be able to enjoy the classic cartoons from my youth including Scooby Doo, Looney Tunes, The Flinstones and The Jetsons.

Crayola — A plethora of arts & craft activities for every age.  The site has online coloring pages.

What are your children’s favorite website?  What would you recommend me bookmarking for the toddlers?