A little headline caught my attention today. "Bill Gates: My Kids Get Limited Computer Time." What a novel concept and one that I think is wonderful.
Gates said he and his wife Melinda decided to set a limit of 45 minutes a day of total screen time for games and an hour a day on weekends, plus what time she needs for homework.
I wonder if there is any accurate research out there that details the differential between how much time parents THINK their children spend online or gaming, and the reality of how much time kids are REALLY spending in front of a computer or videogame. I think that the results would be pretty startling. While I know that iSafe does some research along these lines, with the questionnaire they put out, but I think an independent researcher you have some staggering results.
This story comes on the heels of a Newsweek article "Your Igloo or mine?" Which details a number of "social networking" sites geared toward the pre-teen or tween age groups. If you have heard me talk about the social networking phenomena you know my position is overall a positive one. There are so many good qualities to the learning and interactions that kids can get from these types of sites. They read (something schools are struggling to get them to do… they write, they create, research, present and defend their positions on a number of topics… it really is amazing.
Anne's son Kevin was in the hospital (two states from home) receiving a bone-marrow transplant.
“[Social networking] was a huge lifesaver for us,” says Anne, his mom. “If he was ever feeling down or bored, it would keep him occupied for hours.” By the time he came home on Valentine’s Day, she estimates that most of the nearly 200 kids at his private school—from preschool up through eighth grade—had signed up with the site just to keep in touch with her son.
This is a great tribute to how social networking can really be beneficial. Another experience with the positive impact of social networking I know of is where a high school biology class set up a site to study and begin to understand the life difficulties of individuals with cystic fibrosis. Amazing connections were made that impacted the lives of all involved.
However, there are the dangers as well. Child predators, cyber-bullying, adult content, and even simply too much digital immersion. There is a comment in the article I not only disagree with, but almost take offense to:
Parents, after doing their due diligence, can generally rest easy…
Now the writer does caution parents to not become complacent, but please. Additionally, the article does mention a number of the "safety and security" features that the developers of the sites (yes I am purposefully NOT naming the sites) have set into place to protect kids, yet for every "good site" you will find ten that may not be…
Where is my family on all of this? With my son only being 2 1/2 years old, I don't have trouble limiting his exposure to games or the Internet. We do set limits on how much time he spends watching TV or even videos. Being as "digital" as I am, he is well aware of what a computer is, and often wants to "check something" on my PC or tablet. He really enjoys drawing on both my tablet and my Axim Pocket PC so I can imagine what his future will be like. Will I limit his "screen time" as Bill Gates puts it? You bet. In a way he has helped me even curb my screen time, and definitely my online gaming time as I do NOT play computer games while he is home or even awake.
Personally, I feel that all parents should limit the amount of time and the type of content with which their kids are interacting. There is far to much senseless violence and sexual content that they are gravitating to, and that developers are pushing. Now that I say that, I also advocate DISCUSSING these types of things with kids, and working to help them understand why they should not be wasting time or viewing such material as opposed to simply attempting to block questionable content. Sure it is easy, and a false sense of comfort knowing that your kids cannot get to mySpace at your house! But, remember they DO have feet, and cars if they are old enough and hopefully they have friends… if they do, they will need your guidance to make the best decisions not just a blindfold at home…