Friday, November 18, 2005

Video Games, Electronic Entertainment, Kids and Parenting

Heres my theory.

1. TRY LIVING WITH NO TV. It's actually easier than it might seem. I have often lived without a TV for between three months and once for two years. Following my most recent move, I just did not put a TV in my new house. When the kids asked, I just "Hadn't bought a TV yet". This meant no cable, no videos, and no game machine. Actually, we did occasionally watch videos by putting DVDs in the computer and turning the monitor around towards a couch. This meant huddling together to watch on a smallish screen. The no-TV hiatus lasted 13 months (read how it ended below).

2. CONTROL THE SELECTION of VIDEOs. One day, I was humiliated into getting a TV. It involved one evening when I had a dozen people over sponteneously after a neighborhood block party got a little wild for those of us withchildren under ten. It turned out to be a night when a World Series game was on, our home team (Marlins) was in it, and my house was the one spot in town from which they could not follow the game! Woops, major social gaffe. I bought a TV the next day and signed up for cable so I would be prepared if such a thing happened again. For my own family, I stocked up on DVDs. I got classic musicals (Grease, Annie, Oliver, Music Man, Mary Poppins, Pirates of Penzance, Sound of Music ,etc), the best animated films, some other kids films (Spy Kids is a favorite, we're big Harry Potter fans), and some classic animations (my son particuarly likes the original ThunderBirds). The kids accept that this selection although there is always pressure with the new releases. This past year, there have been some great ones (Incredibles and Sky High, both working the family-centric SpyKids theme) . I control the watching so the kids need to ask permission to watch: we tend to watch one or two videos over a weekend. Also, I will often break the watching of video up into several sessions. We will start it before dinner...finish it afterwards. I'm also big on discussing the videos. I'll ask about characters and they whether they think the character did the right thing, what would they have doneetc etc. My idea is that watching does not have to be mindless: I try to exercise "reading comprehension-like skills" (major idea, details, sequence, character etc) The kids don't get access to cable or broadcast in my house. Not at all.

3. Video games - Limit the Selection and Focus on Multiplayer Games. Parents, stay involved! I only stock games that can be played as a group and which have no real violence. We play alot of bomberman (its like pacman but its multiplayer - up to 6 at the same time) for instance, there is a Mario Race game, a Mario Smash brothers, and a few others. I have both Nintendo and an old Playstation to play "Croc, Legend of the Gobos". This is the only single player game that we allow in the house but we take turns playing and among Croc's many virtues as a game, its fun to watch!

4. LIMIT THE HOURS of VIDEO GAMES. When the kids get too difficult, I put the power cable away for usually two weeks. Period. I keep TV & Video games as a privilege that they get only if they are good and do their chores / reading / homework. In addition, I stress that too much electronic entertainment (like too much candy) is bad for them. It over-excites and makes it hard to concentrate and to remain calm. The kids believe this (either because I've said it alot or because they can feel how it affects them). We try to not to eat too much candy at a time or to play more than an hour of video games. Do we ever go on a binge? You bet we do but playing two hours of video games when its a rare treat is alot more fun than having that as a normal. Also, sometimes, I make a whole tray of fudge and we eat it all too. .

5. NOTHING ANTI-SOCIAL, no Walkmans (or Ipods - did I just date myself?) or mobile games. I flatly refuse to allow a GameBoy (or other portable single player game machine) in the house since it aggressively attacks community time. Also, no Ipod or other headphones with music. These are sore points. I recently took away my daughter's phone for the weekend since she was using it to play games on. But I find a person in headsets to be shut-off in a way that I'm not allowing.

6. USE TECHNOLOGY CREATIVELY - We listen to audio books in the car. ALOT. Sometimes we bring them into the house to finish a chapter but somehow, thats never as good as sitting in the car, even if its parked in the driveway. I have a whole theory on audio books for kids and reading comprehension. We've listened to Dr Suess (Yurtle the Turtle) and all the existing Harry Potter books. We just listened to The Golden Compass (yes, the kids are growing...)

7. PEA - An important aspect of Parenting is that we are Parenting in an Electronic Age. This is the subject of my upcoming essay which will develop many of these thoughts further. Input welcome.

But, I need to evolve with fast-changing kids and world. Other than Online Learning Games with Time4Learning, the kids like alot of online computer stuff with Neopets becoming the particular favorite. There are some great learning games that I try to steer them towards with moderate success and some two player games (these are all part of Time4Learning). And how to manage IM and all this other stuff? Well, online safety first. My daughter's school forced her to get her own computer (a good thing) and so far, it has been benign. Her grandparents have given her a cell phone which so far, has been convenient and fun. But my oldest ( a girl) is a young teen so I know that the big challenges are ahead.....

One of our word games for the car is that I'll mention a technology (the web, remote controls for TVs, cell phones, fax machines, trains, radio, telegraph, printing, electric lights, flush toilets) and the kids guess whether this was new:
- when they were born (since 1990)
- when I was young (1970s-80s)
- when I was born
- when my parents were young or born (1920-40s)
- when our grandparents were born
It gives them a real albeit rough sense how much the world that they live in is in flux from a techological materials point of view

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Internet Safety

"As parents, we understand the risks that come with our children's growing independence and we know how to protect and advise them. I remember when my young daughter wanted to ride her bike around the block on her own. I was anxious but I let her go. I understood the risks and where the boundaries should be set. "

This is how Mr. Doug Fodeman, a nationally recognized expert on keeping our children safe online, who runs Children Online, a site educating parents on Internet risks and a Time4Learning Educational Advisory Board starts his talks with advice for parents. He continues:

"Unfortunately, this same intuitive understanding of risks is not true for most parent with the internet. Most parents are unaware of the risks and dangers that await children on the Internet. As wonderful a tool as the Internet is, it has many sites that are not age-appropriate for our children, sites with opportunities for our children to interact with strangers of all ages, and places that put children at risk for harm such as bullying, personal encounters, and addictive behavior." Strange though it may seem, a child can be very influenced by a stranger or group of strangers over the net and can make terrible lapses in judgement in giving out personal information

First recommendation, young children should be supervised at all times on the computer and net. This is to protect the computer and the children. Many parents place the computer screen so that they can easily see it while they are working or cooking. Put the computer with the screen facing the inside of the room (so its easy to see) and perhaps in the parents home office or kitchen but not in the children's own bedroom. This is a great policy into the early teen years.
Second recommendation, get and stay informed about safety on the net. Good sites to look at are: Children Online, Get NetWise, and Parenting In an Electronic Age. And since the net and technology is evolving rapdily, plan on an annual update of your knowledge. Many schools host an annual evening helping parents to understand the risks from the evolving electronic media (remember, a cell phone can now also include email, chat, and web surfing!). If you need speakers, contact us and we might be able to suggest one.

Share your information about the risks with the children. We recommend that you reach an agreement with your child about the what they will and will not do on the net. There are a number of templates for this but essentially, the agreement helps you and your children communicate about the risks and how the child has to take responsibility for not disclosing any personal information. We recommend that the signed agreement be taped to the wall by the computer.

Third recommendation, purchase and install web filtering software for all children under the age of 16. Web filtering software acts as a barrier between your child and the Internet. It attempts to filter out bad/inappropriate content before your child sees it. Filters help support the boundaries you set such as the hours of usage, the sites that they can visit, and their usage of email or instant messaging. We recommend Cyberpatrol for the PC and Content Barrier for the Mac. Also, parents should look at all electronic media and find a trusted source of family-friendly info on electronic media.

Lastly, while it's important that you understand and manage the risks of your children using the Internet, we believe that you should make efforts to have your children take advantage of the Internet. Just like bicycles and cars and sports, there are risks. But these risks are manageable.

Time4Learning is a great example of an online learning program for homeschool or enrichment. Time4Learning has helped thousands of children with a curriculua covering from PreSchool thru Middle School. Each child gets their own individual learning path full of lessons, learning games, printable worksheets, and assessments.