5 Ways to Help Kids Find Balance

By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media Editor

Sometimes it seems like the more tech savvy kids become, the fewer real-world skills they're capable of. Many can easily manipulate a smart phone, but basic stuff like chores, sports -- even making eye contact -- has become a challenge.

My kid was well past his tenth birthday before he achieved true proficiency at tying his shoes, but he could rule the world in Civilization V. One friend's kid has a hard time maintaining a conversation, but she IMs a blue streak. And another friend's toddler is a genius on a smartphone but resists all efforts at potty training.

Kids are more digitally plugged in than ever. According to Common Sense Media's 2011 Zero to Eight media-use study, half of all children have access to mobile devices at home, like tablet computers and iPods. And in 2010, a study by the Internet security company AVG found that a whopping 69 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds can operate a computer mouse, but only 11 percent can tie their own shoelaces.

These statistics may make you want to swear off digital devices forever or just turn back the clock. But that's impossible. Kids view technology as an integral part of their lives -- something that enables them to have new experiences, learn about the world, and share a sense of community with their friends.

The challenge of parenting in the digital age is figuring out how to maximize the benefits of all these technological advancements -- while minimizing the risks -- and balancing it all with the real-world experiences that are so crucial for healthy development. It can be as simple as making sure that for every half hour spent playing Mario Kart, your kid spends 30 minutes practicing nostalgic childhood activities like jumping rope, somersaulting, or playing hide-and-seek.

Ironically, technology makes life so easy that finding the time and motivation to practice life skills can be hard. It's all about balance. Here are some strategies that I use to try to get the right mix.

Plan off-line time. The lure of digital pursuits is strong, so help your kid plan his or her day to fit in all of the "have-tos" -- homework, chores -- with the "want-tos" like games and Facebook.

Play active games. While they're not a substitute for experience, active games are a great antidote to sedentary, solitary games -- and a good choice for when you simply can't get outdoors.

Consider the example you're setting. I know I'm my son's digital role model. I make an effort to turn off my email or stop checking my phone once dinnertime rolls around. My actions show him that screen limits don't only apply to him.

Use media as a jumping-off point. Whether it's a jewelry-making game that encourages entrepreneurship, a strategy game that relates to world history, or a guitar how-to video on YouTube, think of ways to extend your kids' favorite electronic pursuits into the real world.

It's OK to be bored. In fact, experts recommend that kids let their minds wander. Impose some downtime on your kid (and yourself!).

More from Common Sense Media:
Choosing Good Video Games for Your Kids
5 Ways to Avoid Media Overload
Dirty Little Secrets: How Some Parents Bend Their Media Rules