Parents can take common-sense steps to make kids’ screen time beneficial

by Deborah Taylor Tate on October 24, 2013

Teacher Student Smartphnoe in Class - The TennesseanTechnology is transforming lives at school. More teachers are utilizing online resources, have websites or even Facebook pages, and some schools are part of a new pedagogy known as “one to one” in which every student has an individual device. This transformation is challenging for all of us, especially the adults.

Today teens are connected everywhere, all the time. What is growing at an alarming pace is the sheer amount of time they actually spend in cyberspace: up to 11 hours per day. While that statistic includes multitasking — using numerous devices at the same time — that is still a lot of time spent in front of a screen. And, while most of us provide a cellphone for emergency use, it is now a camera, video production studio, stereo and generally a window open to the entire world.

Parents are pretty clueless about what kids can and do do online. One nonprofit, Common Sense Media, is trying to help. Along with local cable providers, parents can access parenting videos, tip sheets and even free curriculums.

Recently, Nashville had a rare treat to meet and hear directly from the founder and CEO, Jim Steyer, when he spoke at several local schools. Steyer is the author of “The Other Parent” which documented the increasing time kids spend with television and launched a parent-led independent rating system. Now, with the explosion of technology, his latest book, “Talking Back to Facebook” provides parents both insight and tools regarding mobile and social media platforms, and the issues surrounding the privacy of our online digital footprints.

According to Common Sense Media, parents must set limits, have frequent discussions about online issues, from cyber-bullying to good digital citizenship, and must dive into the technology themselves.

The American Academy of Pediatricians cautions that children from birth to 2 years old should not have any screen time whatsoever. There are more than 1.4 billion apps on the market, so how would a parent or a teacher possibly know which ones actually provide some real educational benefit? And, while the explosion of creative expression and access to the best minds on the Earth are on YouTube, how do we ensure our kids are accessing age-appropriate content?

Check out Common Sense Media’s new Graphite website for the best apps, games, websites and digital curricula for learning, especially if your child needs a little help with a certain subject.

Common Sense Media is attempting to provide parents with many tools with their free app, which rates many of the new commercial apps, social media platforms and parenting videos that teach parents how to have serious conversations.

If you don’t know what “vine,” “Tumblr” or “Snapchat” are, you can find a quick overview on our website.

In the end, the real key according to Steyer is just to use common sense. Set limits, be the parent, learn how to utilize the technology they use and be present in your children’s lives. Common Sense Media is already providing curriculums to teachers and families in more than 60,000 schools nationally. If you are a concerned parent and interested in joining with us to provide additional community training in our community, please send Steyer a note or post a comment at: Facebook.com/commonsensemedia.

And, happy, safe surfing with your kids.

This article originally appeared in The Tennessean.

  • Deborah TateHon. Deborah Taylor Tate is a member of the MMTC Board of Directors, co-chair of Healthy MEdia: Commission for Positives Images of Women and Girls, and a former FCC commissioner.
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