The holidays are over. The New Year has started. Over the holidays, many kids may have received tech-toys for gifts. Computers, video games, cell phones, and electronic screens are ubiquitous in our lives and the lives of our kids. As the New Year is getting underway, we want to keep our kids clearly focused rather than busily distracted. Technology has played and can play a crucial role in education, but there are important rules for using any tech device.
Whether texting, surfing the web or playing video games, research shows that kids between the ages of eight and 18 spend more than seven hours a day with gadgets. * That, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. Balance, as in every other aspect of life, is key. A variety of helpful resources have made technology an integral part of our lives and how we learn. While technology has introduced many portals of enhanced learning, it can also be a distraction in kids' lives – offering kids easy ways to get sidetracked, diverted and overwhelmed.
To help kick-start a successful year, Sylvan Learning, the leading provider of tutoring services to children of all ages and skill levels, offers parents and families the following tips to find the right balance for using technology efficiently and effectively.
Your rules rule. Have clear guidelines for kids to follow. Like all rules for children, the clearer and simpler, the better. If you're unsure how to start, talk to trusted teachers at school, other parents in the community, or look at good online sites.
Set time limits. A good rule of thumb for teens is two hours of screen time per day, including schoolwork. For elementary schoolers, it's less. No screen-time just before bedtime. Decide what will work best for your family.
Set place limits. Ban electronic screens at dinnertime, for example, or when the family is having a discussion or enjoying family time together. Many families find that for younger kids, it's best if the computer is in the family room – not in the kids' rooms – and used only when an adult is present, monitoring.
Schoolwork comes first. Study and chores come before socializing and games. So does anything else you decide – writing that thank you note, going to Sunday school, helping the next door neighbor.
Stress privacy. Explain to your children why you won't permit them to give out personal information about themselves or their family, to meet with strangers they've "met" online, or to spend money online. Just be realistic and firm.
Stress common sense. It is good sense not to allow downloading or uploading – music, movies, or photos for instance – without your permission. Show kids how their online words and pictures are, for all intents and purposes, permanent. Just as we watch what we say in our speech, we need to do the same thing online.
Be a role model. You're a role model in everything you do and say as a parent, including using technology. Let the kids see you using your computer, phone, and other devices to make your life easier, more efficient, more fun. Show how you're in control of it, not the other way around: i.e. if you say no gadgets at dinner time, don't pick up the phone yourself.
Technology, when used effectively, helps enable and empower our children's educational lives. The key lies in setting boundaries on kids' electronic use.
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