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A Holiday Diet for Digital Devices and Developing Minds

Are they getting their digital veggies?

With the holidays coming, there a high probability kids will have even more screen time than usual.  Not only will they be out of school, but there will be holiday travel, which means portable DVDs, iPhone and iPads for planes, trains and automobiles.

Once you arrive at your destination, there’s the digital babysitter so cousins stop fighting and grown ups can catch up. And let’s not forget the football games on the TV after a big holiday meal.

Given that screens are distracting and social media makes kids even more distractable, the holidays and all the screen time they offer are as good a time as any to start thinking about a digital diet. I know, who needs another diet? But if you think of it as shorthand for moderation, diet doesn’t have to be a four letter word. And parenting in a digital age means we have to be moderate in all kinds of ways. According to The New York Times, which recently ran a big story about teenagers and digital distraction, it’s important for parents to set an example of smart use of digital devices and to help their kids figure out how to do it, too.

Start with the little ones. As Paula has written, kids under 3 don’t need iPhones or iPads. As kids get older, say 4 to 7,  supervised use of apps can help them learn a letter or two.  As with TV, screen time needs to be limited, and parents need to know what their kids are watching or playing.

Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, which recently published a report on young children and interactive technologies, points out in the Times that kids mostly use technology for entertainment, and they need to have a more balanced approach.  Other experts suggest limiting the number of functions kids have open at once, challenging kids not to have Facebook and IM open at the same time.

As tweens turn into teens, experts note that they have to take responsibility for themselves, as do parents.  How much time do we spend on digital devices in front of kids? Do we have to send that text right now?  I don’t have a smart phone, but as I contemplate getting one, my concern about how much I’ll use it in front of my kids is a real stumbling block.  When I got a phone with a keyboard for texting, I started acting like, well, a teenager, texting non stop. (I had to change plans.)

Adult brains may be wired already, but that doesn’t mean we’re not distracted.  The holidays are as good a time as any to unplug and get strategic about how and when our kids use digital devices and we do, too.

How do you manage screen time in your family? Will you go on a digital diet?

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