I love what I love - but too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. I like sports, beer, Springsteen. But I hope these loves are in balance with the rest of my life (although 68 Springsteen shows may test moderation to my wife). So, as I watch my kids absorb technology, I struggle with its place in our lives. Just how much is enough? What is moderation?
It is hard to watch my kids entranced by any screen. My childhood was filled with bikes, kick the can, tag, sandlot anything and board games. But the average American kid is now in front of a screen for more than 8 hours a day. It is not just a TV show or a movie that my kids find. It's an avalanche of new media in apps, games, TV and movies. All of which can be viewed on multiple screens, from a variety of sources which are completely mobile.
Technology and media are interwoven into every facet of kids' lives
Kids use screens:
Initially, my wife and I tried the tactic of just limiting our kids screen time. But this leads to the inevitable and endless battle of, “Just a few more minutes!" "After this round?" "Can I finish this game?” It may be better to find some media that is both high quality and interesting. In the onslaught of new media there are a wealth of gems buried underneath the most popular apps and movies.
Here are some ideas to help you feel more comfortable with kids on screens:
1. Find apps and movies enjoyable for them and interesting to you. At first, keep them simple and make sure that there is a fun aspect. Yes, It takes a little effort to find them, but I happen to love problem solving and puzzles.
Some examples of apps I love:
Baby's Musical Hands - The simplest possible interface allows babies and toddlers to play with piano, guitar and percussion sounds. An incredibly rewarding experience and a great choice for a child's first app. (1+)
Where’s my Water? - Solving a puzzle for an alligator. What phase is the water -- liquid, steam or ice? Good for ages 4-12 as the puzzles get harder.
2. Pick a movie or TV show that allows them to relate to one issue or question in their own life. Yes, the show still has to be interesting but it can tell a great story and have subjects that are interesting for kids. A few that have generated conversations in our household:
Sesame Beginnings: Make Music Together - The Sesame Street Muppets appear as babies in this video which demonstrates tapping into young children's natural love of music in everyday activities. (2+)
Spellbound - A great movie about a spelling Bee. Asking our oldest son if he was comfortable with getting up in front of people in a spelling Bee actually became a reality. The situations in the story are worthy of some great “What would you do?” questions.
3. Don’t forget about books. We prefer paper as it travels without the screen (Does that sound old school?). A book inspires the discussion and also allows them to use their own imagination.
Me, Jane - Yes, it has won almost every award but that isn’t the point. In a world of money and technology, this is an easy story to talk to kids about doing what they love. And it starts from Jane Goodall's childhood stuffed animal. (6+)
Encyclopedia Brown - The stories are always positive, have a puzzle to solve and teach some great attributes about the boy detective. (9+)
I find it easier to accept moderation -- which includes some Angry Birds, Surfing, racing and, yes, even some shooting -- if I also know that we spend equal time on media that helps develop the kids.
Yes, we still have to hold to time limits ... otherwise when would they run out into the yard and play Kick the Can?
Chris has spent 20 years building high tech products for kids in the sports market (Nike and Oakley). Currently on sabbatical, he supports his wife in the passionate pursuit of her start-up, SmartFeed, a new tool to help parents navigate the complex and fast paced world of kids’ movies, TV, Apps and books.