"Turn off the TV!" "No more Club Penguin!" "No Facebook 'til you're 14!" Sound familiar? Welcome to the world of digital drama -- where cell phones, TV shows, video games, and the Web create a standoff between kids and parents. But it doesn't have to be this way.
How can you avoid a confrontation that can evolve from Elmo to online games to texting at the dinner table faster than you can say OMG? Beginning when your kids are young, you can help reduce the charge that these issues have by offering alternatives for stuff you're comfortable with.
Here are the most common media stand-offs at every age -- and how to nip them in the bud.
Solutions for Every Age
"Mommy, can I watch another show? Please, please, please?"
Preschoolers love TV -- and love to watch their favorite characters again and again and again. But there's a reason why the American Association of Pediatrics recommends only small daily doses. Too much TV has been linked to a host of negative consequences, like lower school readiness, attention-deficit disorder, and obesity.
Try this: If you let your preschooler sit in front of the tube alone, she'll naturally want to watch whatever's coming on next. So watch with your kids, choose quality shows, and turn the TV off when the show is over. Then ask your child to draw a picture of what he or she watched. (Also, think about watching shows via DVR or on-demand to skip the commercials.)
"Can I get a Club Penguin account -- all my friends have one!"
As kids move through the elementary years, friends become more important, and they begin to look to their peers for cues on how to act. Club Penguin and other online worlds provide a fun way for kids to socialize online. But you have to pay a subscription fee to enjoy all the benefits -- and what happens when your kid moves onto another interest?
Try this: Let your kids use the site for free for a while and see how they like it. If you think they'll stick with it, give them a full account for a birthday or holiday present. That's a great way to teach them that virtual worlds cost real money!
"I'm getting a Facebook page. I don't care what you say." In middle school, peer influence is strong, and kids begin to make more independent decisions. But Facebook's minimum age is 13 -- and that's to protect kids from marketing come-ons, as well as any dubious social connections.
Try this: Get kids interested in social networks that have a younger minimum age. Also, make sure their privacy settings are set to the strictest circle of friends. Ask that they connect with you on whatever social network they join. Talk to them about responsible online behavior and how their reputation can be affected by questionable posts and photos.