By James P. Steyer
Author of Talking Back to Facebook
Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media
We may think of our kids’ online, tech and mobile activities as “digital life,” but to them, it’s just life. Their world, as it evolves at a dizzying pace, is as much about creating media as it is about consuming it. Media devices have converged and become extremely powerful and portable. Phones aren’t simply for phone calls anymore, but for listening to music, texting, filming videos, snapping and sharing photos, and accessing the Internet.
Our kids use their computers to do their homework, but they also use them to socialize, stream video, create movies and record songs. And they can communicate or connect 24 hours a day from just about any location. As parents, we want our kids to make great decisions so they can take advantage of the powerful technology that fills their lives.
But in order to make good choices, kids must know how the digital world works—and so must we as parents, educators, and policymakers. We must all understand the concept of privacy so that what our kids post and create won’t hurt them or embarrass them at some point down the line.
The stakes are high because our kids’ technological abilities can eclipse their maturity and judgment. Tracking, profiling, and behavioral marketing to kids has become a widespread, global practice, and the law that protects kids’ privacy is woefully outdated. To them, unrestricted access to information and people can mean age-inappropriate contact and content, or it can mean a wealth of information and experience. It’s crucial that, just as they learn to swim, eat properly, or drive a car, kids receive guidance to be able to thrive in the digital world responsibly and respectfully. Their ultimate success depends on their abilities to use digital media to create, collaborate, and communicate well with others. Only those who really know how to use digital tools will be able to harness their awesome power.
While our instinct is to protect our kids and control their environment, the reality is that digital technology makes that almost impossible. We can’t change it and we can’t go back. But we can and must help kids navigate this new environment safely and set a good digital example that will enable them to make the most of the extraordinary creative and learning opportunities that technology makes possible. Here are some practical tips to help guide you:
1. Set firm time limits. No screen time for tots under two and a limit of two hours per day, total, for older kids.
2. Do your homework. Choose age-appropriate material.
3. Unplug! Take technology time-outs and spend time with your kid.
4. Learn their world. Go online, play digital games, and watch TV with your child.
5. Location, location, location. Keep family computers and digital games in a common area.
6. Role model. Be a digital role model and impart your values.
7. Teach your kid to self-reflect before they self-reveal. Think before hitting “send.”
8. Make sure your child understands safe and appropriate online behavior.
9. Education and technology. Help your kid take advantage of great digital educational activities that complement and enhance life in the real world.
10. Stay involved. Know what your kid is seeing and doing in the digital world and talk about any issues that come up.
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