Tip #12 Match Kids’ Screen Time with Active Time

Jul 05

When the country’s most prominent newspaper headlines a story about kids playing outside (or their lack of it), you know something is amiss. This is what constitutes news? Apparently, so. There is even a celebratory reference to a young girl who actually (gasp) climbs trees!  The Globe and Mail article delves into some pretty dismal statistics lamenting the pathetically low amount of exercise that Canadian kids engage in.  Parents clearly need to take action.

Lack of activity isn’t a problem in my household where my only chance at obtaining any semblance of peace is to lock my three boys outside for long periods of time. However, I realize that not all parents are willing to kick their kids out the door without a lengthy negotiation period with the young’uns where they try to explain the benefits of fresh air and exercise. (Something to do with children’s rights and a desire to take their feelings into account.)

So, here I offer a quick tip to end all wasted efforts in such negotiation that will likely end in stalemate anyways. Set a general rule that every minute your child spends on his rear end in front a screen must be matched with time spent outside. Yes, they may complain of agonizing boredom five minutes after they’ve stepped out the door. I admit that is hard to take as a parent (not because we’re so sympathetic, but because it’s annoying as hell). It may require you to take pro-active measures, such as calling a friend to come over once in a while or offering to take them to a park. You can also take another page from my parenting handbook and offer any number of yard chores for your kids to complete if they can’t figure something out for themselves (they’ll stop griping pretty quick).

I realize this tip may not jibe with some parents, as it requires an ability to withstand copious amounts of complaining… particularly when such a rule is first implemented.  Take some solace in knowing that their outdoor time can be replaced with time spent in organized sports, as well.  The key, here, is to make sure that your kids are learning the importance of balancing sedentary time with active time. If kids don’t build these habits into their lifestyles now, they most certainly won’t do it when they’re grown-ups and busier than ever.  And besides all that… playing outside is, um, playing, after all.  I’m sure all parents can agree, we don’t want our children to be in such dire straits that the next thing we need to teach them is HOW to play.  Do we?

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Tip # 9 Set Rules That Both Parents Can Support

Jun 20

In celebration of Father’s Day, which we celebrated yesterday, I thought it an opportune time to emphasize the importance of Dad’s input in the family screen dynamic. Too often, I’ve been quick to dismiss my own husband’s ideas around video games and TV viewing, assuming he’d give them free reign over the controllers if it were up to him (as long as it did not overlap with his football game). Yet I’ve discovered over the years that without his wholehearted supported for “my” rules, enforcing them also becomes “my” job. And alongside laundry, cooking, washing dishes, helping with homework (just a small list of things that are “my” job), I realized that I preferred not to add daily arguments with  kids over screen time to my personal duties.

Besides all that, Dads know a thing or two about screens. As with many households, my husband dedicates a portion of most weekends to lying on the couch watching sports. Is his habit really so bad?According to my husband: not so much. Since we have three sons, I’ve learned to defer to my husband’s knowledge on this issue and accept that time spent with the TV is a valued aspect of the today’s “guy” culture. Who am I to fight it?

Several years back, when my oldest son started begging for a Wii, I was firmly opposed. Allow my kids play video games all hours of the day? No way. They were going to be raised as piano-playing, outdoor-loving, homework-completing robots – I mean, kids. Welcoming a video game console into our home would destroy all my plans! My husband, however, wasn’t as keen on raising total nerds. Bit by bit, he’d sneak in arguments supporting a Wii purchase. My resolve weakened. Not just because I was tired of preaching from my soap box about the evils of video games, or because I was battling ever more feebly one against four (my three sons and husband), but I respected that my husband deserved as much say as I did about how our kids spent their free time. I finally succumbed and before wrapping it up to set under the Christmas tree, we agreed to support one another in the rules – which, it turns out, would take a couple years to iron out.

After much experimenting, my husband and I have formed a harmonious and united front in how and when our kids can use the screens in our home. Still, I have a more say in this simply because I am with them a lot more than their father. (Which is also why I vetoed his recent push to eliminate the Monday to Thursday video game ban. I love that rule!)  Now that we share a middle ground for our kids’ video gaming and TV habits, we can support one another’s efforts to ensure they follow the rules. And, that gives us less to argue about. Or, at the very least, allows more time to argue other issues, right honey?

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Tip #2 Filter What Your Kids Can See

May 20

parental controlsI am a huge advocate for teaching kids self-censorship. In an age where every kind of image not previously known to man has ended up on a screen, all of us (adults and kids) need to accept responsibility for what we choose – or choose not – to view.  My personal weakness is cheesy commercials posted on YouTube.

That being said, no child should be exposed to much of the content posted online. I’ve seen enough stuff to make me scratch my head, how can I expect someone a couple decades my junior to understand and process such images themselves? In fact, the thought of my kids viewing some of the disturbing images out there (Rihanna videos included), gives me the heeby-jeebies. I’ve accepted that I can’t protect them from lousy boy bands and the song “Friday” by Rebecca Black, but there are some things on the internet that I don’t want them to accidentally fall upon.

So, here’s the good news. Every screen, whether hand-held or hanging above the fireplace, offers parental controls. Yes, even your television has them. Spend a few minutes out of every day over the next week playing around with the settings of the devices shared with the kids. Keep in mind: every parental control requires you to create a pass-code.  Write it down and save it. Trust me – you’ll forget.

The computer is the most difficult of the devices to filter. It requires software that, most likely, will need to be downloaded from a website. After many failed efforts at installing family-friendly filters, I’ve found one by Norton that is perfect.  And it’s FREE. Norton Family is easy to install, does not slow down your computer, and is ridiculously simple to use. Check it out here.

Below are some how-to links for setting up controls on various game consoles and hand-held devices. Typically, it’s as simple as clicking into the settings and finding the menu item for safety controls. And, don’t worry about having to curtail your own online habits (should they include some racier content), all the settings are a cinch to remove for adult use.  Just don’t forget the password!

Wii

iPod, iPad, iPhone

Nintendo DSi

Playstation 3

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Tip #1 – Show You Care (About Video Games)

May 17

How do you feel when your son or daughter excitedly tells you he or she just finished an awesome new book! Pride for their accomplishment? Thrilled that your kids are just as smart as you? Hopeful that this is the start of a beautiful life-long love of words?

Now think about how you react when that same child thrusts their DS Nintendo toward you to brag about their top score. Irritated that he’s interrupted your tweeting? Barely interested? Maybe offer up a little eye-rolling? Apparently, that’s not the ideal response if you want to be an influential partner in your child’s digital life.  Research indicates that parents who are gamers, themselves, have more say over their kids’ video game habits. (You can read an earlier post on this here.)

While I can safely say I will never be a “gamer”, I’ve stopped cutting my kids off every time they outscore an opponent, or share the latest on a new Wii game they MUST have. My “I don’t really care” response has morphed to raised eye brows and similar expressions that convey I’m interested, really really interested (even if it’s feigned).

The upside to this is that my boys are talking more to me, about everything. A chat about Mario Brothers leads to a story about some drama that played out at school. It also has encouraged them to talk about all their digital experiences, not just those related to high scores. They want to show me funny youtube videos, tell me about friends who they believe play too much video games, and admit when they’ve inadvertently seen something inappropriate on screen (hopefully I’ve heard all such stories, anyhow).

The more I listen, the more they talk. And, you know what? Some of their video games are a lot cooler than I’d ever realized.

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How Much Does the Virtual World Affect Your Family’s Real World?

Nov 10

How Much Does the Virtual World Affect Your Family’s Real World?

Like most parents these days, I worry that my three boys play too many video games and may be overexposed to the Wild West of the internet.  Not only do I wish to protect them from harmful effects of the virtual world, I want to ensure they are living a balanced life… that the basketball games they play include a real ball, not just a virtual sphere in a Wii game.  I find that every month or so I need to review how the screen is affecting our family’s dynamic. 

 Here are some of the ways that concerned parents, like me and my husband, can ensure the family’s online habits are healthy, and the kids’ real playground is still in use:

  • Calculate how often your kids are on the computer.  A recent survey by Norton on families’ internet use indicated that kids are online twice as much as parents think they are.  If you’re not aware of their online time, then perhaps the computer needs to be moved to a more central location like the kitchen or hallway where you can keep closer tabs on their habits.
  • When one of your kids comes home from a friend’s house ask him (or her) what he did there.  Did they play video games? If so, what ones?  Did they go online? What websites did they visit?  Be sure to ask as a concerned and interested parent.  Don’t drill them with questions that may upset them.  Let your kids talk openly without judging or reacting angrily.  They’re more likely to share an upsetting online experience if they know they’ll be supported, and then will be less likely to find themselves in a similar situation later.
  • Consider your own online habits.  Kids learn from modelling their parents’ behaviour.  Are you half listening to your kids talk about their day as you browse your emails?  Many parents work from home and using the laptop is an integral part of the day.  Explain to your kids that you are online for your job and not playing games.  Then turn off that computer or Blackberry when it’s family time.  Kids won’t bother talking if they know Mom and Dad aren’t listening.
  • Review your kids’ school marks.  Are they at the level you’d expect?  While several factors can cause low marks, so can too much video game playing.  A study by Robert Weis concluded that kids whose households owned a video game consoled fared worse academically than those living in homes without.  But don’t toss out the games yet, instead, consider limiting the kids’ video game playing time.  Make the rule simple (like no video games Monday to Thursday) and be consistent. 
  • Match the amount of time your kids play video games with the amount of time they play outside.  One hour on the Wii means one hour in the fresh air.  They may even stay outside longer, especially if Mom or Dad join them!
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