5 Take-Charge Rules
Only three out of ten kids ages 8 to 18 say that their parents set limits on their media use and stick to them, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation study. It's easier to establish boundaries when your child is 2 than 12, so take these steps now.
Unplug yourself. Is the TV always on, even when no one is watching? Do you take your smartphone to the dinner table? You don't have to go cold turkey; just set a good example by limiting your tech time and using those free moments to be with your family.
Fire the electronic babysitter. Don't flip a switch whenever the kids are bored or you need a break. "When the TV is off, I'm 'on'—and that can be hard when I have a lot to do," admits Stephanie Deininger. "But my 4-year-old has a tough time entertaining herself." So Deininger keeps the computers in one location—the den, which she's converted into a media room. "If Elena doesn't see the computer, it's less tempting."
Develop healthy media habits early. Just because your kid can play with your iPad for hours doesn't mean he should. Watching a video on a two-hour car ride won't do any harm, but if you hand him a digital device every time you get in the car, he'll have a meltdown if he doesn't get that electronic fix. For toddlers and preschoolers, 20 to 30 minutes of screen time twice a day (all screens, not just TV) is plenty, says Dr. Michael Rich.
Teach how technology can aid learning. "What the World Book was to earlier generations, Google is today," says Dr. Ellen Wartella. Still, some experts are concerned that it provides instant information without any creative problem-solving. "We need to show our kids how to take advantage of Google but teach the importance of critical-thinking skills."
Be skeptical. If a program is billed as educational, that doesn't necessarily mean it is. Check for recommendations from trusted sources such as Common Sense Media (commonsensemedia.org) and The Center on Media and Child Health (cmch.tv).
Ask Dr. Michael Rich—known as "The Mediatrician"—your burning questions about children and all types of media from January 2 to February 16 at parents.com/ask-dr-rich. He will give reasonable, real-life advice.
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Parents magazine.