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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Video Game Fun or Addiction?

Apr 27

My husband and I periodically discussed purchasing a Wii for our three boys.¬† They each have a DS Nintendo already, which they would gleefully play from sunrise to sundown if only we’d let them.¬† But, handily enough, they’re small enough to stow away in one hiding spot or another until their next Happy Hour – Hey boys!¬† Play for thirty minutes, and if you’re good – another thirty for free!¬†

Except for the odd fight that erupts when it’s time to shut them off, we have mutual respect for video game time.¬† Yet, still they want the Wii.¬† The questions my husband and I have to ask are… Why should they get it?¬† Why would we want another reason to argue over game time?¬† Why do they need yet another video game system?¬† That is, another excuse to not read a book, or play outside, or, uh, talk?¬† The latest study, has muddled our dilemma even more.

According to the study of 1,178 Americans, 20% of the kids were addicted to video games

According to the study of 1,178 Americans, 20% of the kids were addicted to video games.¬† One in five kids have an addiction?¬† That is a pretty alarming statistic.¬† To determine a child’s addiction, the study measured them against eleven symptoms and only those who exhibited at least six of them were deemed to be pathological gamers. ¬†The most interesting research in the study was the distinction¬†between the two groups:¬† one played just for fun, while the other “incurred damage to several areas of one’s life.”

In comparing video game players with pathological gamers, they learned that among the addicted players  -

  • They had been playing for more years, more often, and for more time (two times as much time as non-pathological players at 24 hours per week)
  • They knew more of the ratings symbols i.e., M for Mature, T for Teen
  • They got lower grades in school
  • They were more likely to report having trouble paying attention in school
  • They were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder
  • They were more likely to report feeling addicted to games and having friends they thought were addicted, too
  • They were much more likely to be involved in physical fights over the past year
  • They were more likely to have a video game system in their bedroom.

Interestingly, becoming addicted to video games had nothing to do with age, race, frequency of using the internet for homework, having a TV in the bedroom, or type of school the child attended.  Children were just as likely to exhibit addiction whether they attended private or public schools, or were home schooled.

The study concluded that video game addiction was definitely a predictor of poor performance in school.  But does the gaming cause bad grades, or is a student who struggles in school just more likely to play more video games?  The study did not know the answer to that.

All my children do very well in school, so perhaps it’s less likely my kids will lean towards addictive behaviour.¬† But is it worth taking the chance?¬† Then again, two of the symptoms of addiction are:

  • skipping homework to play video games, or
  • skipping chores to play video games.

Heck, as a kid I’d have laid still under my bed for an hour if it meant getting out of chores.¬† Isn’t ‚Äògetting out of work’ in the very¬†definition of Kid?¬† Sometimes, as parents, we just need to be guided by common sense.¬† Would I let my kids play twenty hours of games in a week?¬† Not a chance.¬† At least, I don’t think so.¬† But then, my kids are still young and relatively easy to control (aside from when we’re in the candy aisle of the grocery store.)

I’m not yet convinced we should buy a Wii, either now, or ever.¬† With it, comes a lot of responsibility for both parents and children.¬† As parents, we set the rules.¬† And the kids, unfortunately, have to abide by them – which is just as tough, if you’re looking at it through their tear-filled eyes.

Fortunately, Christmas is still more than six months away.¬† And then there’s the next Christmas, and the one after that.

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Will Hard Times Mean an Old Fashioned Christmas? Not Likely.

Dec 22

If ever there was an excuse to be Scrooge during Christmas, this year’s recession is it.¬† While Stephen Harper’s government (at the proverbial gunpoint of its opposition forces) shops for a pricey stimulus package that will placate the panicked cries of financial doomsayers, regular Canadian folk are left figuring out how to make fewer dollars stretch enough to cover the tree, the turkey and the kiddie gifts.¬† It seems inevitable that dickensian scenes be played out in homes across North America – less electronic games with animations that lull hyper tots into hypnotic states, more old-fashioned books with words on pages to fill young minds with tales of fancy.¬† Families will gather ‚Äòround the hearth singing carols between bites of bonbons and Father will read some C.S. Lewis (perhaps as he puffs on a pipe.)¬† Ah yes, recessions will teach us the merits of old-time family values as more of us eschew the digital-laced holiday (maximum two players!)¬† Well, better hold off on the Christmas pudding.

The latest figures on video game sales indicate that Canadians are set to spend more than $2 billion on video games in 2008.  According to the NPD Group, national sales on hardware, software and accessories were $1.6 billion through November Рa 36% increase from the same period in 2007.  So what gives?  While the government faces a coup from its opposition on the basis of the suffering Canadian masses, who they say are crippled by economic ruin, parents are racing to Best Buy and Toys R Us to get the Wii.  In fact, Nintendo Wii sales are up by 40% this November as compared to the same month last year. 

And as for family time by the hearth?¬† Most families will be lucky to fit in a game of Scrabble as their kids vie for a turn at “Gears of War 2″ (the highest in game sales, followed by “Call of Duty: World at War”.) ¬†Nothing like a good ol’ game of shoot to kill just before dinner.¬† And, what is for dinner anyhow?¬† With less money to spend, perhaps it’s the turkey that families have sacrificed for a tin of ham.¬† Certainly, books haven’t become the cost-conscious alternative to the pricier electronics.¬†

According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks book sales for 75% of the U.S. retail book market, sales of books are down by 7%, as compared to last year.  The biggest dip has been in adult nonfiction, while incredibly, juvenile fiction has shown a 24% increase in sales this year over last.  The bad news is that parents seem willing to forgo their own intellectual growth, but the good news is that kids will be unwrapping books alongside their Wii. 

My own children will be receiving one new DS Nintendo game each (cost: $80) and a total of about ten books (cost: $160).¬† The Wii was top on their wish list, but I quickly lowered, I mean managed, their expectations by explaining that they will NOT see that particular¬†present under the tree this year (and, no, Santa does not give Nintendo Wii’s for Christmas.)¬† So – based on my sales figures, books are twice as important as video games – whether my kids will spend twice as much time turning pages on Christmas morn as they will clicking their DS games is, hmmm, unlikely, at best.¬† But – we will find time to play Scrabble (Junior.)

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