Is technology to blame?
They say you're not supposed to measure your kids' achievements against others, but I can't help obsessively comparing every one of my son's milestones with his friends'. He walked first. He talked first. But he just couldn't master shoe-tying.
My husband blamed Velcro. I blamed my husband. But a recent study has given me a much more tangible culprit: the computer.
Last year, as part of its Digital Diaries campaign, Internet security company AVG alarmed parents with its discovery that, on average, children have an online footprint by the time they're six months old. Now the company is reporting more eye-opening stats about how much more adept kids are at digital skills than "life skills" -- like tying shoes, for example.
According to the study, a whopping 69 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds can operate a computer mouse, but only 11 percent can tie their own shoelaces. Turns out my pride in my kid's superior computer skills may keep him in slip-ons for the rest of his life.
A couple more ways that digital skills are winning out:
• More young kids know how to play a computer game (58 percent) than swim (20 percent) or ride a bike (52 percent).
• When it comes to making phone calls, 28 percent of young kids can make a cell phone call, but only 20 percent know to dial 911 in case of emergency.
These statistics may make you want to swear off technology, but before assuming we've all forsaken childhood, think about the big picture. Information like this serves as a warning -- and, rather than tie myself in knots (pun intended!) worrying about those shoelaces, I'm taking it as a good reminder to be tactical about how I integrate technology into my kid's life.
I've come to realize that if I want my kid to be as adept at life skills as he is at destroying alien life forms in Starcraft, I have to schedule bike rides, reserve swimming lessons, and yes, resist Velcro's seductive promise.
Balance media skills with life skills
It's all about balance. But like an acrobat on a tightrope, balance takes effort. Here are some strategies for my high wire act:
Living offline forges new experiences. 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.
It's OK to be bored. In fact, experts recommend that kids let their minds wander. Impose downtime on your kid (and yourself!).
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 the rules 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 make-it-yourself crafting site, think of ways to extend your kids' favorite electronic pursuits into the real world.