Posts Tagged ‘ digital ’

How Video Games Can Help Your Child’s Attitude

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Video games often get a bad rap. They’re blamed for rotting young brains, contributing to childhood obesity, and exposing kids to violence. Some of those complaints are probably justified, but as I handle game coverage here at Parents, I’m seeing more and more high quality educational entertainment come through—and it seems as though many of these games could really have a positive impact on the lives of children.

To get an expert’s opinion, I spoke with Michael John, the game director for GlassLab, a collaborative effort that works to transform learning through digital games. (They recently reworked Sim City for classrooms to teach environmental science). He’s also the father of 12-year-old Lily, so he’s seen firsthand how video games can make a difference in her attitude. “Games simulate how we tackle problems in the real world,” John explains. “They are a situation in which kids will willingly take on something very difficult and stick with it.”

For example, John’s daughter was struggling with operational math in her sixth grade class. All the numbers and symbols would overwhelm her, so she often declared she couldn’t do the problem. One day, John suggested that Lily take a break from her homework and spend some time playing the latest Mario release on the Wii U. As he watched her play, he observed that she was working on a difficult challenge. She failed several times, but she’d keep trying—and she’d make more progress with each attempt. When the break was over, John said, “Before we do math, I want to talk to you about what you just did in Mario.” The pair discussed how motivated Lily had been to complete the challenge, despite how much of a struggle it was. “I commented, ‘Does that sound at all like those math problems?’ It wasn’t about teaching her math in the game. It was just about changing her mindset.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean kids should have unlimited screen-time. But making Lily reflect on the game makes it a learning experience, rather than just a passive activity. “A lot of times kids are getting a lot more out of games than you think,” John says.

Here are some of John’s tips for parents about making game time more productive for kids:

1. Be aware of what she’s playing. Have her use the TV in the living room, where you can keep an eye on her. If she’s playing on a phone or small device, you can still ask her what she’s doing, and ask to take a turn.

2. Discuss and share the experience. Working on the game together will help you understand what she’s going through. Afterward, engage her in conversation, just like you would after finishing a book. (Sample questions: Who are the characters in the game? What did she learn from mastering a new level? How would she change the rules of a given game and why?)

3. Encourage her to try challenging games that offer variation in activities. While games like Candy Crush Saga are interesting for a while, it eventually becomes the same action over and over. Kids learn more from games that make them think strategically or force them to make decisions.

Happy gaming!

Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks
Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks
Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks

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Image: Family having fun playing video games via Shutterstock

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The National Day of Unplugging: A Screen ‘Sabbath’

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

National Day of Unplugging from devicesEver feel that you’re hopelessly addicted to your mobile phone—and that your kids are quickly learning to be just as tied to their devices? Welcome to the club. Between iPhones, iPads (and electronic-toy replicas thereof), and of course, television, I think it’s safe to say most of us, and most of our kids, are too absorbed with our technology at the expense of experiencing the world around us and interacting—face to face, not virtually—with each other.

One movement is proposing a solution, at least for one day: The National Day of Unplugging, scheduled for sunset Friday through sunset Saturday, aims to have families put down the devices for 24 hours. Modeled explicitly after the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew), the idea is the brainchild of a Jewish cultural group called Reboot.

Our family has a day of unplugging not just once per year, but every week: We are Jewish Sabbath observers, and as such we are offline Friday evening through Saturday evening every week. Aside from just putting away our devices and turning off the television, during the Sabbath we avoid spending money, driving in a vehicle, talking on the phone (even a landline!), and many other activities of everyday life.

And it works for us. Though we hear occasional grumbling from our kids, such complaints are rare. Instead, our kids play with old-fashioned, creativity-inspiring toys. We have family meals together, visit with friends, read together, and go to synagogue. We talk. Crazy, I know.

So is a “technology Sabbath” a good idea for your family? I highly recommend the idea of a day-long, family-wide device-free day (no need to go quite as tech-free as we do), but not without some advice and warnings. And while the idea of a specific, nationwide “Day of Unplugging” is a nice idea, this can be accomplished any day you think it would be successful.

For starters, have a plan for what to do on your day of unplugging. Merely putting down your devices without making this gesture part of a larger idea of connecting as a family is bound to fail in a blizzard of protests. Shabbat works for us not just because we disconnect from modern technology, but because we spend it as a family. For us that means good meals (with extra snacks), time with friends, and synagogue. For you it might be a day at an amusement park or other local fun destination, or a series of smaller activities at or around home.

Secondly, don’t feel a need to spend every minute together. My oldest is increasingly occupied with afternoon play dates, but even then, I know she is interacting with her friends and not just playing video games in parallel with them. And even if she’s out for the afternoon, chances are strong that we’ve spent far more time together as a family—and quality time at that—than any other day of the week.

However, don’t expect miracles. My kids don’t become little angels when the sun sets on Friday. They still fight, nag, refuse to eat anything healthy, demand to get their way, and otherwise act like the 7- and 3-year old they are. Not that I am complaining (well, maybe a little). It’s not like human nature is suspended for 25 hours, as this Kveller.com blog post, which made the rounds among my Sabbath-observing friends recently, so vividly dramatizes.

Lastly, despite the good intentions and enthusiasm of those behind the National Day of Unplugging, it’s hard for me to see how a one-off day of disconnecting would make much of a difference, other than giving families a small glimpse at what can be. Unplugging for one day per year is, I would guess, just as likely to cause intense grumbling and fights over the suddenly-changed rules as it is to foster a memorable day of communication and interaction.

So yes, I’d still strongly recommend you try unplugging for this National Day of Unplugging. But I’d recommend even more strongly making it a regular thing—as long as you make those days filled with togetherness and meaningful, fun interaction.

Plus: What’s your parenting style? Take our quiz and find out!

Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children

 

Image: Kids using mobile devices via Shutterstock

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Kid Photos: How Many Is Too Many?

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Facebook is starting to make me feel like a grump.

One of my friends posted three separate batches of photos of her toddler yesterday. There were photos from a sledding adventure, photos from afternoon playtime, and then some mom-and-son selfies to end the night. Another friend, who is a single mother, filmed her daughter opening all her Christmas gifts this year, rather than putting the camera down and experiencing a special holiday moment just between the two of them. And my own 4-year-old niece never lets us take pictures of her anymore, because she’s sick of her mother following her around with an iPhone.

Yup, it looks like I’ve reached the latest milestone in my life: I get to start complaining about baby photos!

Now I know I’m certainly not the first person to get fed up with photos on the Internet. It seems silly that I still feel the need to say anything about this. But as my friends and I are approaching our mid- to late-twenties, I’m suddenly being flooded with photos of their children. Of course I am delighted for those who have started families, and I love to see what they’re up to now. But do my friends—who are otherwise very bright and rational human beings—really not see anything wrong with hiding behind the camera every time they spend time with their kids? It saddens me that they spend so much energy documenting every move their child makes, rather than quietly savoring some of it.

I completely understand that posting photos online is a great way to update relatives who live far away. And of course it makes sense to share big moments or particularly adorable snapshots. But we really don’t need to be inundated with dozens of photos (especially if they’re blurry or practically identical to the rest in the batch!) Not to mention, this only reinforces the stereotype that we millennials are self-absorbed and narcissistic.

Personally, when my turn comes, I’m going to aim to handle things just like my best friend Sam does. Her son was born in August, and since then, I’ve seen maybe ten photos total of him online. They’re rare enough that when his face pops up in my Newsfeed, I actually feel excited to see how big he’s grown. Plus, I get the feeling she’s relishing motherhood and spending too much time with her baby and her husband to waste time sitting around on her computer. That’s my goal too.

Then again, I’m adopting a puppy this weekend. Maybe my new “fur baby” will inspire me to go on a photo rampage and I’ll be spamming all my followers with them come Monday. You never know.

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Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children

Image: Young mother with kid taking photo via Shutterstock.

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Five Ways to Help Your Child Develop a Healthy Relationship with Technology—and You

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

By Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D.

Photo: Claire Holt

Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ed.D., author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. To learn more about how your relationship with technology can intersect with your child’s life – for better and for worse – head over to the 92Y Parenting Conference in New York on February 10, or watch the livecast right here at Parents.com.

The single most important relationship in your child’s life is the one she finds with you. What happens when you add a tablet, smartphone, laptop, or desktop computer that routinely pulls you away? What does it mean when you use screens and apps as a pacifier for your baby or toddler, or as a babysitter or teacher? Tech not only changes the iconic picture of the parent-child relationship–it changes the relationship itself. There are so many ways that tech expands our connectivity with each other and with the wider world. The challenge we all face now is managing our relationship with tech so that it doesn’t take away from our relationship with our kids and family.

In my six months on the road since The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age was released, in deep conversation with kids, parents, an educators, the most asked question is “how?” How can I get a handle on this while my child is young? How can our family make some changes in habits we can all see aren’t the best? Kids themselves are asking, too. They may rarely admit it to us as parents, but they want us to set limits, to show them how to set limits, to model a life offline that is rich and real.

Here are five ways to support a sustainable relationship with technology for you and your child:

• Let your infant and young child’s room be a screen-free room. Let the space between you—playing, eating, strolling, care-giving—be tech free. Your child will join tech culture soon enough. The American Academy of Pediatrics urges a screen-free environment for children under two years old, and a thoughtful, limited exposure for the nursery and pre-school age child. In general, power down screens, pick up a book, and read or playfully engage with your child. Let your child plug into you.

• Don’t let the magic of the screen replace the magic of real-life play. Make a list of four or five different non-screen activities, such as drawing, building with Legos or playing outside, and carry it with you so you can use it as a reminder. Unplugging from tech is a struggle for most of us; share that with your child, perhaps recruiting them to do something together. Know that when you model the struggle and the choice to unplug and do, you’re showing them how it’s done.

• Create rituals for you and your child that acknowledge you’re turning your attention elsewhere. At designated times, give yourself the uninterrupted time to get your work done. But stay offline and present for at least 45 minutes from the moment you pick your child up from school or day care. Create your own Responsible Use Contract that everyone sticks to—including you! Be clear about what kinds of screen time are okay, where, and when. Through these conversations, your child becomes more self-aware, and understands the tech relationship as something to be managed, something for which we dictate the terms.

• Be picky about the types of tech-based media your child interacts with. Choose shows that teach them about the world around them in a way that is kind, hopeful and encouraging; not bratty, sarcastic, fast, or frightening. Pick any media exposure as carefully as you would pick a babysitter to leave alone with your baby. Common Sense Media is an excellent resource in this regard.

• Remember: With infants and young children, especially, an app is not a “safe distraction” like a stuffed animal or a musical mobile. Neurologically, it’s a stimulant. When we give babies and toddlers stimulants instead of a calming attention and offer tech distractions from ordinary life instead of guidance through it, we teach them at a very young age to deal with life’s ups and downs by plugging into external sources to self-regulate rather than develop those skills within. Resist the urge to let tech replace genuine parental support and guidance through moments of frustration, boredom, or other dissatisfaction.

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