Kids are returning to school this year more saturated in media than ever. From the TV to the computer to the cell phone, balancing your kids' media consumption with homework, after school activities, and play dates is no small feat.
How do you set limits? When should you supervise online activities? How do you reward responsible kids (or give consequences for missteps)? In the tips below, our readers provide practical, do-able, tried-and-true advice you can put into practice right away.
See How Parents Make it All Work
Cell Phone Rules
Say 'nighty night. "At night before bed or at 8:30, we have them turn their phones off and charge them in a certain place that's near our bedroom. They can get their phone in the morning before school."
Don't believe the hype. "They want to know when they can get their own cell phones and iPods (even though they weren't totally sure what it was). So we've had discussions on what's neat and fun to have and what's necessary."
Adjust for age. "Now that my sons are almost 11 and 14, I find how we handle media consumption to be a fast-moving target. We've relaxed time limits on our older boy, primarily because he makes straight As, is very responsible, and increasingly needs PC time for homework."
Set goals. "In addition to caring about their safety, we believe kids need things to look forward to, so we've set definite ages for different privileges, and so far this has worked. Age 11: emergency-only cell phone and email (with Mom having access until responsibility has been proven); age 13: Facebook (friending Mom); 14: cell phone with texting."
Take back the remote. "We have now 'cut the cable,' so to speak, for children's TV and have moved completely over to Ameba for all of our children's TV shows. Our children still pick the shows they want to watch from our 'filtered' list. It kind of empowers them to make the right media decision." [Editor's note: Also try TiVo or your cable provider's digital video recorder.]
Take matters into your own hands. "My kid usually doesn't watch a whole lot of TV. But when the TV does get out of hand and he's turning into a zombie, I either pester him until he can't stand it or just unplug the TV!"
Stick around. "We as parents are all sheltered from what our (older) kids do with friends when they're away from home, so spending time with my daughter when she was on MSN [Microsoft's instant messenging program] was a good way to experience this and teach her a lot of things about life. A lot of times, she was happy I was around to give her advice on things."
Set expectations. "My son, who is 11, has been begging me for a Facebook account. I finally told him this: When he has matured to the point where he can talk comfortably to any other adult, to ask questions, say, of his teachers, or to call a friend's parent to make a request comfortably, or to meet and converse with adults at his parent's social gatherings, then he is approaching the level of maturity needed to use a social networking site."
Be a role model. "As a parent, your best offense is to 'walk the talk' (lead by example and keep words to a minimum). Any family rule/value must apply to all members of the family. You must set clear boundaries between work tasks/home life/recreation/etc. and abide by those. You can even post a schedule where all can see it."
Stay active. "We talk about how it's more fun to make a snowman than draw one on a screen."