Top 25 Tips for Parents on Internet Safety and Digital Literacy

Jan 01

Get all the handy tips and tidbits right in one spot! The next 26 to 50 tips will start in 2012.

#1 – Show You Care (About Video Games)

#2 – Filter What Your Kids Can See

#3 – No TV in the Bedroom

#4 – If You Have Nothing Nice to Post, Don’t Post Anything At All

#5 – Tell Your Kids the Cost of that Cell Phone

#6 – Get the Kids a Timer

#7 – Take the Kids to the Library

#8 – Get to Know the Video Game Consoles Before Buying

# 9 – Set Rules That Both Parents Can Support

# 10 – Review Before You Go to the Movies

#11 – Get to Know Facebook

#12 – Match Kids’ Screen Time with Active Time

#13 – Parents: Mind Your Own Screen Time

#14 – Interrupt Sitting Time with Movement

#15 – Prepare Your Kids for Gladvertising

# 16 – Update Kids’ Facebook Privacy Settings Regularly

#17 – Encourage Responsibility In Front of Camera and Behind Camera

#18 – Expose Your Kids to Khan Academy

#19 – Offer Guidance and Independence When Kids Research Online

#20 – No TV in the Mornings

#21 – Have the Talk, No Not THAT One, the Money Talk

#22 – Get Comfortable with Saying No

#23 – Talk Reality about the Effects of Reality TV

#24 – Beware of Too Much Free Time for Kids in Screen Time Culture

#25 – Teach Daughters AND Sons to be Critical of Female Portrayals in Media

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Tip #14 Cutting Back on Couch Time will Increase Your Life Span

Dec 22

We all sit on our butts too much these days. Between our office job, Googling, Facebooking, playing video games, and watching TV, few of us can complain that we don’t get enough opportunity to just sit and relax. This habit of parking our rears is apparent through all generations – from young to old. In fact, one of the biggest dangers of the internet and digital technology may be it’s negative effect on our health.

Here are some interesting statistics about the state of our health due to sedentary living, as compiled by U.S.-based organization Medical Billing and Coding:

  • The average North American sits 9.3 hours per day (versus 7.7 hours of sleep);
  • A person who sits more than six hours per day is up to 40% more likely to die within 15 years than someone who sits less than three hours;
  • Those who sit three hours or more per day watching TV are 64% more likely to die from heart disease, and;
  • Of those who watch three hours per day, those who exercise are no slimmer than those who don’t.

The solution to our life-shortening habits is, actually, quite simple. We need to turn off the TV, or whatever screen engages us most, and get off the couch. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend kids include at least one hour of physical activity per day, and adults at least 2.5 hours per week. These may be helpful for some, but how many parents are actually keeping track of their kids’ activity? Probably very few. Rather than wringing hands over the amount of time kids are getting vigorous exercise, parents might be better off keeping track of how many hours their kids are sitting watching TV, YouTube videos, or playing video games. Less time in front of a screen will likely translate to more time on their feet.

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Re-Thinking Our Kids’ Education Model and Welcoming Digital Literacy

Dec 08

TED is a non-profit organization devoted to “ideas worth spreading” and features innovators from the fields of Technology, Education, and Design. Below is an enlightening video featuring TED speaker, Ken Robinson, that challenges the current education model in an exceedingly entertaining and surprisingly clear way. It describes the need for a revolutionary change in how today’s kids are taught, expounding the merits of new technologies and the ability to exploit kids’ digital literacy. I highly recommend you read the entire video (unfortunately, the sound cuts off in last 20 seconds.) TED is a stellar example of how technology enables thought leaders to share innovative ideas that inspire and educate across the globe.

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Tip #24 – Beware of Too Much Free Time for Kids in Screen Time Culture

Nov 16

Too much free time can be too much of a good thing according to a new study in the Applied Research in Quality of Life Journal that was recently covered in the.  Findings (after questioning 1200 high school students) indicated that materialism and compulsive buying are a negative result of having an over-abundance of thumb-twiddling time (and perhaps an increase in screen time?) Boredom, it appears, does not always open doors to the imagination but can be a fuel for consumerism.

While this isn’t technically a “tech” tip for hair-pulling parents overburdened with the task of wrenching their children away from an animated rectangle (of various sizes), it is relevant given that most kids’ free time directly correlates to their screen viewing time. In my house, particularly, computer time is typically awarded after completion of certain tasks: homework, piano practice, emptying the trash, vows to be silent. In other words, when their time no longer is entrusted to adult-enforced regiments, they’re free to do as they wish. Unfortunately for most parents, today’s kids will often select an activity that involves a screen when they have nothing left to do.

This quick access to video is likely one of the culprits causing the unhappy results of too much free time for the modern adolescent. Boredom that translates into mindful activities such as reading books, playing ball in the park, or pursuing a hobby like jewellery-making or woodworking isn’t going to turn a kid into a perennial mall rat. However, if such activities are trumped by television viewing, surfing the web, or video gaming, the influence to conform according to the standards of advertisers, brands, and “cool kids” on sitcoms is ever-present. I have no intention of railing against the advertising machine, after all, they’re just trying to earn the profits they need to flourish as businesses.  As a parent, however, my bigger concern is my child’s happiness.  And, a screen that entertains is also a vehicle to pressure people to seek some retail therapy.  A kind of therapy, it turns out, we’d be better to live without.

While it’s not news that spending too much time in front of a screen is no recipe for happiness, parents should also consider just how much time their kids are spending doing, um, nothing. Filling some of that extra time with sports, clubs and lessons will actually make them happier. I guess I should pat myself on the back, then. I’d always thought that when my kids complained about all the time they spend practicing piano and doing homework was an indication of their misery when, in fact, they’re happy as can be. Now, if only I could convince them of that.

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The Kids Can Go Online, As Long as Mom Can Snoop

Oct 05

Kudos to those parents out there who maintain a screen-free household.  I admire them, even if that admiration is tinged with resentment.  I’m sure that they would look down on a mother like me, who eventually succumbed to my kids’ relentless begging to play video games.  But based on the latest research on kids’ habits, there can’t be many families out there who are capable of shutting out the latest gaming technology.  Check out these facts from The NDP Group:

  • Kids are most likely to turn into more serious gamers between the ages of 6 and 8 years old, when their video game playing time increases dramatically.
  • 82% of kids in the U.S. between two and seventeen years old (55.7 million kids) are gamers, that is, they regularly play video games. 
  • Of these gamers, 9.7 million are between the ages of two and five years old, while 12.4 million are between nine and eleven years old.
  • Over half of all kid gamers play games online and are more inclined to be males between nine and fourteen years old.
  • With the advent of handheld devices, the ability to download entertainment from the internet is exploding.  Seventy-five percent of iPhone and iPod Touch users connect to the Web to download entertainment content and apps.  As more children come to own such devices, they will be increasingly exposed to internet content.

Raising kids in an electronic-free environment seems close to impossible when one considers these statistics.  And yes, that helps alleviate my guilt over buying my kids the latest Wii game so they can play for three hours straight in the basement (that’s only on special occasions, by the way), but more than that, it confirms my belief that parents can better serve their children by allowing them to grow comfortable with digital technology than by blocking it completely.  Whether we like it or not, our kids will grow up ever-connected to a screen.  My boys are still young enough to not be too bothered by  their snooping mom looking over their shoulders every time they go online.  They still recognize that I know more than them about the world and my advice is still welcome.  When they hit their teens, I’ll still know more than them, but they sure won’t believe that anymore. 

So, better they learn internet protocol from me (while they’re still young) than years later from some badass 13-year old who wants to show off the “coolest web sites” – as long as no teachers or parents are around.

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