Why Parents Should Put Kids on a Digital Diet


I've been putting a lot of thought into parenting for a digital world. My kids, as you can probably guess, have enough gadgets and gizmos around the house to stock a small Best Buy. And that makes me worry.

There's a running refrain when I talk with other parents about media -- games, TV, movies -- and kids. If you grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, you probably spent more time than was healthy in front of the TV and then, a few years later, in front of the Nintendo. Our parents didn't think about media consumption as we do, for a number of reasons.

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Culturally, media has changed since we were younger. Violence and, to a lesser degree, adult content, while prevalent in the olden days, are more realistic and, as a result, make us think all media is more violent (whether that's true is a discussion for another post). More important, content is more available than it ever was. Thirty years ago, a TV got a few channels through rabbit ears. These days you get a hundred channels worth of content on your MP3 player.

That's why I think most kids could use a digital diet. Too often we turn on the TV or computer out of habit, and I think kids are very susceptible to this tendency. I'm guilty myself -- I can't go a few minutes without checking the smartphone -- but I'm trying to remedy that. More important, is making sure the kids don't fall into habits that will, in the end, be hard to break.

My wife and I have worked hard to create a bit of structure around media consumption in the house. First, we limit TV and movies to a few hours on weekends. This includes anything from a few movies on Saturday and Sunday to an hour on the Nintendo 3DS or Wii. That's it.

Oddly, I've heard from some parents who believe that this media diet is dangerous. My own mom warned me that we were raising kids to be rebels and sneaks. Whether she is wrong or right is difficult to say but, for obvious reasons, we don't want our kids stuck on the couch all day.

So where is the happy medium? Do you throw away the TV entirely? Reduce watching time to a few hours per week? Become a draconian TV lord, meting out a few minutes every year?

I honestly don't know.

My opinion -- at least right now -- is that kids need to be enmeshed with their culture. Movies and TV are important, as are video games. I also feel I need to be well versed in what they're watching and playing and co-watching and co-gaming makes that easy. By playing the Wii with my son, I learn what his favorite games are about, and it creates a topic of conversation that is as important as what he wants for lunch and what he learned at school.

In the end, no one has the answer (except maybe experts who believe that there should be no screens before the age of 3). My wife and I think we have a good system in place and many would differ.

What do you think about kids and media and, more important, how much time kids should spend in front of screens?

 

Image via Flickr/shardsofblue

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