By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media Reviewer
If the long winter months have sent your kid into the arms of Facebook, Angry Birds, or Sesame Street reruns, it's time for a little spring cleaning. Thankfully, cleaning up your media act is a lot more fun than figuring out how all those insect wings landed in that weird space in the attic.
The first step is taking stock of the stuff your kid is watching, playing, and downloading. We'll help you figure out what to keep (the good stuff), what to toss (the not-so-good stuff), and what you, as a parent, can "give away" (support strategies for every age).
Stay tuned for the next installment, where we'll tackle the issues that come up and provide handy resources for problem solving.
Movies, television, Internet: If your toddler's day includes Yo Gabba Gabba for breakfast, an app for lunch, and a Cars chaser after dinner, you may be over relying on flashy screens to keep your little one entertained. It's an easy pattern to fall into when chores are piling up and your kid is whining for Elmo again.
- Keep: Shows and games that model behavior you don't mind them imitating (because they will!), teach pre-reading and number skills, and promote imagination.
- Toss: Anything non-essential. Sometimes you need to put on a DVD to get dinner on the table. Try using something from your "keep" pile (Check out our faves).
- Give: Your time. Watch shows together; play online games together. At this age, your kid learns best from you.
Movies, television, Internet, games. Somewhere between New Year's and St. Patrick's Day, your kindergartner learned to wield the remote with surprising authority. And after watching SpongeBob SquarePants the cartoon, they've started asking to play SpongeBob SquarePants the online game. Most kids' TV shows have corresponding websites.
- Keep: Anything that reinforces math and reading. Because kids this age understand the concept of time -- past and present -- stories that have historical lessons also can have a great impact.
- Toss: Age-inappropriate shows and sites. Kids will see lots of ads for stuff intended for an older audience. Pre-recording shows and going online together is a good way to make sure the content they're seeing and interacting with is pre-approved by you.
- Give: Protection. Exposure to a wide new world of media opens kids up to more: more ads, more potentially scary content, and even more media choices. Kids this age don't yet understand the difference between reality and fantasy. Avoid potentially scary shows, talk about ads, and limit their choices to stuff you want to expose them to.
Television, Internet, games, social networking. As the days got shorter and temperatures plummeted, your kid found refuge in an icy new world: Club Penguin. This and other virtual worlds hold sway over a staggering number of 7- and 8-year-olds. Unfortunately, kids this age may not have the social skills necessary for online communication.
- Keep: Shows, games, and books with positive role models, as kids this age are forming ideas about who they are and how they fit in.
- Toss: Aged-up entertainment. Seven- and 8-year olds are often looking to older kids as examples and are eager to imitate them.
- Give: Guidance. As they begin interacting with friends online, kids need lots of guidance to make sure they're communicating respectfully.
Television, Internet, games, social networking. Your kid may have spent the whole year so far developing online research skills for school. And now the Internet is a big player in her life.
- Keep: Basic Internet safety rules. As they spend more time online, kids this age need to know how to keep themselves safe.
- Toss: Facebook and other 13-and-older sites. Provide alternatives designed for younger kids.
- Give: Clear expectations for responsible online behavior. At this age, kids' technical abilities often outstrip their judgment.
Internet, social networking, texting. Who's your kid talking to online? Who's he texting? Who's he friending? Who knows? But he sure spends a lot of time doing it. If your kid is fully immersed in social networking (which can include anything from multiplayer games to YouTube to Facebook), he may be posting photos, videos, and other personal information.
- Keep: Privacy settings. If your teens register for any online site, help them limit the number of people who can see what they post by using the site's privacy settings.
- Toss: Multitasking. Kids often feel lost without their phone, their Facebook page, their iPod, etc. at their side. But doing too many things at once can seriously compromise their ability to focus on schoolwork.
- Give: Oversight and interest. Stay engaged in your kid's digital life as much as possible. Friend them online, and have them show you their favorite sites and games. That's the best way to help them use these things responsibly and respectfully.
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