Your wired kidHow much time does he spend on YouTube, Facebook, Xbox, or other screen-centric pursuits? Find out what's normal, what's ideal; and when to step in
WHY YOU SHOULDN'T STRESS OUT
• When your kid is immersed in a game, he or she is actually practicing some very complex — and necessary — skills. In a handful of experiments comparing gamers to non-gamers, scientists have found that frequent players have sharper vision and faster reaction times and that they're better at multitasking and less easily distracted.
• Though the precise skills honed by a video game may not always transfer to real-world tasks, and video game playing should be done in moderation and not take the place of physical exercise, the psychological habits fostered — determination, resourcefulness — may well carry over into players' everyday lives. And a study by Michigan State University researchers of nearly five hundred 12-year-olds reported that playing video games was associated with creativity in tasks such as generating stories.
• Screen time can foster connection and closeness with peers. Larry Rosen, Ph.D., a psychologist and the author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us, found that teenagers who are more active on Facebook and other social-networking sites display more "virtual empathy" — they are more likely to express support and encouragement. "Behind the safety of the screen, teenagers — especially boys — are more willing to share their feelings, to take social risks," Rosen notes. "They are practicing emotional life on the screen, and getting better at it."
So screen time can have its bright spots as well as its dark sides. How can you, as a parent, make sure the former prevail? Turn to 3 Smart Ways to Handle Screen Time, and follow the expert strategies.
1. Don't get caught up in the idea of limiting screen time to a certain number of hours
You read that right: Many researchers now believe it's almost impossible even to keep track of tweens' and teens' total screen time, especially when they're out of the house for many hours a day. "How do you count the 30 seconds a kid spends checking his e-mail between classes," asks psychologist Larry Rosen, Ph.D., "or the zillions of three-word texts a kid sends throughout the day?" Instead, some experts suggest, consider establishing tech-free zones at the times and in the places you do control: No cell phones or handheld gaming devices in the car. No computers or TVs on at the dinner table. (Note: These rules should apply to parents, too.) No iPhones, iPads, or iPods during homework. And nothing that blinks or beeps in kids' bedrooms at night — collect electronic devices an hour before bed; return them in the A.M.
2. Consider your child's behaviors, both online and offline
Is your child meeting her obligations at school and at home? Does she have close, supportive friendships both online and face-to-face? These are the benchmarks that matter more than the sheer quantity of time your child spends in the company of electronic media. Indeed, young people who act out online in aggressive ways, such as engaging in cyberbullying, often have trouble keeping friends in real life, notes University of British Columbia psychologist Amori Mikami, Ph.D. Her research also found that teenagers who have healthy friendships in real life tend to use social-networking sites to further enhance those relationships.
Bing: Kids and the internet
3. Give your kids guidance on digital life just as you would on any other fraught activity
"Start early, with some simple lessons," says Mikami. "Then the discussions get more complex, candid, and interactive as they grow older. As soon as they're old enough to sit down in front of a screen, you need to talk about moderation, about the fact that with e-mail and social media, there are real people on the other side of the screen." Ask your kids how they feel when friends are kind or cruel online, and how their words might affect others, too ("It looks like the argument with your friend started with a mis- communication. How could you keep that from happening next time?").
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