Even experts who are skeptical about younger children's growing media use recognize its value. Simply knowing how to use a computer translates into academic confidence. Simulation software and multimedia encyclopedias open windows (no pun intended) for students that weren't available even five years ago. Want to watch butterflies emerge from their chrysalis? Find out why Pluto is no longer a planet? A few clicks takes you inside the American Museum of Natural History to ask why.
Learning how to live in a high-tech world effectively, safely, and responsibly is a task we need to start teaching children earlier than ever. "As kids explore social networking sites such as Club Penguin or KidSwirl, parents must visit these sites with their child and monitor all chats," says Perle. "Make sure you choose from age-appropriate games, since many have sexual or violent content as well as commercial characters embedded in them." By age 7, children begin to understand that commercials try to get them to want to buy things—so talk about how to be a smart media consumer.
Like all parents, Dr. Rich is doing his best to stay on top of his sons' digital exploits. Recently, he reports, Ian took a picture of his mom sleeping and installed it as the wallpaper on his dad's iPhone. "Now this one's a keeper," he says.