Monday, March 16, 2009

Kids & Media: Getting Started

As a 21st century mom, one of my biggest challenges has been teaching my children about media and technology. I know I am not the only Mom who struggles to navigate the sea of information out there. Sometimes it seems like our children are bombarded by media in too many aspects of their lives, from too early an age.

I remember being horrified that friends would sit their infants in front of Baby Einstein for "stimulation".

I thought, "Stimulation?!? Isn't that what playing with the baby is supposed to do?"

Now that my youngest is three and my oldest approaches 8 years old, I have had to make hard choices about everything from what kind of television they can watch, how much TV is healthy, how old is "old enough" to start using the computer, and how to choose software and internet sites for my kids that are both fun and safe.

For us, the "ground rules" are:

1. Parents are the decision-makers in our home, so we have a very low tolerance for child-based marketing that presumes to sell something to our children. We will almost always opt for products or programs that do not have an advertising component.

2. Whatever my children view or play on the computer must have some learning value. It should provide something that 'real life' does not. In my opinion, diversion or entertainment is not enough to justify spending "screen time". So, with few exceptions, we don't engage in 'virtual' activities, like gardening or pet care, that would be better learned in a real setting.

3. I supervise what my children watch and what they play on the computer. I do not expect a 6 year old to have the judgment to know what is best; that is my job.

4. I never use the TV or the computer to be my babysitter. We set limits on the amount of time a child is allowed to be in front of a screen (30 minutes a day, tops.) Screen time is only allowed after other obligations around the house (homework or chores) are met, and each child must make choices about how he or she will spend the allotment.

5. We don't tolerate media that reinforces bad behavior. That means we don't watch violent movies or play violent games. Ditto with foul language (or, honestly, even 'edgy' language.) I consider it my duty to protect my children, so I don't expose them to the rough edges of the world. They'll get enough of that stuff just by living -- we don't need to beam it into our home.

As my guidelines probably telegraph loud and clear, I tend to be fairly conservative in what I allow. As the week goes on, I hope to share more about television, learning software, and the internet, including tips and safe site recommendations.

But, for now, what are your starting principles for your children and media? What are your ground rules?

- Midwest Mom


  1. My kids have carte blanche on PBS Kids channel and website--I'm okay with Webkinz site and the Disney Channel (mostly). but they always watch only those channels and almost never during the week. As they get older, they actually watch less and less it seems. My older sons have Ipod Shuffles, but no video games or anything like that.

  2. My daughter loves PBS but she's more into books now, and she only watches a little of TV I just put her one or two shows on demand LOL that way when it's over I can tell her there is no more :)

  3. I agree with you re: PBS kids. There is nothing they will show that I will not. My guys especially like shows like Arthur, CyberChase, and Design Squad. But I *do* make them be selective. They can't watch everything every day. I may be old-fashioned, but if it's sunny outside, they need to get out there and play!

    - Julia

  4. Having had to get into these tough decisions yet. So far, Linus watches tv only when so sick we are trying to zone him out so he'll rest.

    I'm looking forward to many a heated debate though with my video game addicted hubby.



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