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Media & Technology Use

Television. Cell phones. Music. Computers. Oh my! Technology is the way of the world. It's important that our children are able to use and understand technology because they live in a world surrounded by it, but it's also important for our children to understand how to use technology in a healthy and positive way. It is recommended that children spend no more than two hours per day in total using technology. To help you monitor your child's usage, it's best not to allow television, computers, or video game systems in a child's bedroom.

Television

It is important to set time limits on technology use; most experts recommend no more than one to two hours per day. Children who watch more than two hours of television per day are more likely to have a higher percentage of body fat than children who watch less.

It is also very important to keep an eye on your child while she is watching television. If she is watching a show, you could sit down with her so you know what she is watching. If you are concerned about the characters or content of the show, talk to her about your concerns. Ask her what she thinks of the characters and topics. If he might see commercials while watching television, make sure you tell him that commercials are trying to sell things to him. When you are watching television with him, point out the commercials and talk about what you see and hear. Let your child know that although advertisements often say things that sound true, in fact many of the claims are not true at all.

Middle years children can set their own television or movie schedule within the time limits or rules you have set. But it's still a good idea to continue to speak to your child about what she is watching and praise her for making good choices.

Pay attention to your child when you are watching (or even listening to) news broadcasts. If your child is also paying attention to the information it is a good idea to discuss what is being said. There are many things discussed on the news that can be very frightening or confusing for children. Children in this age group are not able to fully understand many of the topics discussed on the news.

If your child hears about potential flooding in your area, for example, she may feel very nervous and scared. Talk to your child about your plan if there is a flood. Tell your child that he doesn't need to worry because if there is a flood, you will take care of him and you have a plan in place. If your child is interested, you can discuss in more detail what you would do if this happened.

Contact your television service provider for more details on using parental controls that can restrict access to certain channels.

Tips on Managing Media Use in Your Home

Cell Phones

Whether your child has a cell phone or not is up to you. Every family has its own reasons and needs and a cell phone can be a very convenient way to reach your child. There are things you should decide, however, before giving your child a cell phone. Remember that your middle years child still needs adult supervision. A cell phone is not a replacement for your presence.

There are many different types of phones and plans and you should be clear on what you are willing to spend and why you think your child needs a phone before making the purchase. Many phones have GPS systems or special buttons that limit calls to only a few phone numbers, and other features that your child may or may not need.

Ask your child why he wants to have a cell phone. Stress the reason for getting a phone – for emergency contact between the two of you, for example – rather than the coolness of having a phone. Part of the reason he may want a cell phone is to fit in or feel good about himself, and this may be a great opportunity to speak to your child about his self-esteem. It is important for parents to tell their children that they are cool because they are kind, funny, hardworking, a great sibling, and a great friend, not because they have the latest phone or mp3 player.

Set limits on how and when your child is allowed to use his phone. Make sure your child knows the rules and the consequences she'll have to face if she breaks them. It is a good idea to relate the consequence to the phone, maybe reduced hours for talking or removing her phone completely for a day.

It's also important to talk to your child about technology and keeping himself safe. If he sends a text message, picture, or video to anyone – even a friend – he loses control of that message and it can show up anywhere. Sometimes people make bad choices and we may think our best friend would never forward a nasty message to another person, but we cannot control someone else's behaviour. Make sure you talk with your child about the possible consequences of sending questionable text messages, including how:

Your child needs to know that text messages can be saved and passed around easily. Text messages should always be considered public and permanent.

Music

Popular music is played frequently and in many locations, but that doesn't mean it is good for your middle years child to listen to while at home. It is a good idea to listen to your child's music and ask him why he likes certain artists or songs. Don't be afraid to talk to your child about the words or messages in the music he likes.

Have a conversation about your child's choices and if there are artists you don't want your child to listen to, don't let your child listen to them while at home. It is easier to monitor what your five-year-old is listening to than what your nine- or 12-year-old is listening to, but always praise your child when he makes good choices.

Computers & Internet Use

Odds are your nine-year-old is as good (or better) with a computer as you are. There are many educational websites on the Internet that provide movies, music, learning activities, or games that your child can use.

But it is important to speak to your child about safe Internet use and to monitor your child's use of the computer when she is online. Decide what will count as computer use: talking to a family member through Skype may or may not be included in your child's total usage time. Stick to your limits and rules.

It can be challenging to decide how much we say to our children when trying to keep them safe. Some parents may choose to speak in detail about online predators or scams while other parents may choose to share very little information. What you decide to tell your child is up to you, though it is a good idea to think of your child's age and personality. Many 12-year-olds are mature enough to hear more details while other 12-year-olds may be very frightened by the realities of Internet safety. If your child is more likely to be frightened or upset, share less information with him while still providing him with the information he needs to be safe online.

Parental controls on computers are great tools to ensure your child can't access inappropriate websites or content. Some Internet browsers allow parents to have password-protected settings to block specific websites. Some search engines also automatically block certain types of content or websites from their search list. Other controls can be as simple as limiting your child's use of a video camera.

If you are unsure how to keep your child safe online, follow the link to learn more about protecting your child.

Video Games

Video games come in all shapes and sizes and it is important for parents to know the differences between games and which games are appropriate for your child's age. Some video games will encourage your child to problem solve, get active or read. Other video games will expose your child to sex and violence. Children at this age have a hard time distinguishing between real life and fantasy and many of these topics may frighten or confuse your child.

It is always a good idea to talk to your child about the video games she likes and the games other friends play. It's also a good idea for you to play with your child! Challenge your daughter to a game of bowling or solving math problems. Your child will be able to help you and will feel like an expert in the situation. This will give her an opportunity to learn how to teach others and may also boost her self-esteem.

It's also a good idea to know what games his friends are playing so you can monitor his game playing when he is at a friend's house. If your child has a friend who is allowed to play games you don't allow your child to play, ensure the other child's parents know you do not want your child to play those particular games. Also talk to your child about your rules and why he is allowed to play only certain kinds of games.

It can be harder to monitor video games if you have older children in your family. Games that are appropriate for your 15-year-old likely aren't appropriate for your nine-year-old. You might want to juggle video game time with other activities. Maybe when your younger child is at a friend's house, your teen can play her game. But when all of your children are home, the video games being played should be appropriate for everyone. You should speak to your older children about the types of games they play in front of their younger siblings so they are aware of the reasons why you have created this rule.

Like all other types of technology, it's good to have rules and limits to video game use. It can be helpful to set a timer once your child begins playing so he knows to turn the game off when the timer goes off. (This is also good for parents because we can be so busy, we lose track of playing time.) Pay attention to the games your child is playing. Be familiar with the content of the game and if you aren't familiar with it, ask your child questions.

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