Friday, October 28, 2011

Bringing up kids in the digital age.

omg. Its amazing to imagine what the world will be like for my boys when they have kids. For my parents the world of worry about media exposure for us kids was limited to television (all 3 English and 1 French channel), movies (either it was rated child-friendly or not) and music records (which we couldn't afford) we might listen to at friends houses but we didn't because most friends didn't have them either. In fact, it wasn't really much of a worry at all.

For parents today policing media exposure is hugely more complex and to my mind quite worrying. Who said the world is getting smaller when access to it has increased exponentially, the internet has exploded my world!? Today there are games and apps (huh?) on all manner of contraptions, smart phones, gameboys, xbox, ds, ipad, iphone, i don't even know their names. DVDs abound and are cheaply accessed, some kind of web-enabled device is in every room in the house (exaggeration but you get my drift) and everything is connected to wifi or 3G so internet enabled. Essentially there is a huge open picture window looking out into the world inside nearly every screen you have. Media access for everyone.

Who doesn't know Ben 10?
And then there is TV with its myriad number of channels to navigate everything from nature show, Nat Geo, reality shows, cartoons, movies (all in English or French, Russian, Arabic....take your pick). I was recalibrating our 'Children's Favorite' channels on the remote control the other day and realised that there were more than 30 channels French or English channels to choose from! Nuts. What a difference from the good old days of little or no choice... Flintstones at lunch hour, Giligans Island and Hogans Heros after school....!? Something I realised in Malaysia was when Zaki at 4 years old came home and asked 'daddy, who is Mickey Mouse guy?' can't bring your kids up in a bubble lest they feel like weirdos because they don't know the basic whos who of popular (read commercialized) culture. Better to expose them to it at home where you know what they are getting into.

We haven't had to deal with this one yet but managing social networking is just around the approach is to introduce it while I can still have a measure of control over it so Zaki will get his fb page when he turns 7 in February and we'll take it from there. While I find facebook and linkedin useful to stay connected, this is largely a derivative of having a truly global group of e-connected friends and colleagues and so I can see how they would be only marginal e-accessories and only entertaining if most of my 'friends' were also my neighbors who I could actually meet up with. Ultimately though what I also achieve is to use these new tools and evolve with them so that once the boys get into them I am ahead of the curve and not behind it...a lesson I learned from my Dad who never really got on the technology curve (the home computer he got from the University back in '89 before retiring never really made it out of the box). For the past nearly 20yrs that I have had an email address we have never had an internet encounter (unless you count skype calls?) as a result inevitably a certain distance has grown between us...

A favorite and near nightly occupation for Mum or Dad.
Our current coping strategy includes having an e-schedule that limits screen-time on the wii, iPad, computer and TV. Also its helpful that the boys keep involved in after-school activities and so don't have too much time down-time to fill. All in all they have about 5 scheduled hrs/week and probably 1-2 unscheduled hrs of screen time. Last year when I was more organized computer time was only for educational games. This year on computer we are only watching music vids (that we choose) on and I just discovered Limiting screen time teaches the boys that we choose our media and what we look at ourselves, it is not a free-for-all and the media should never dictate to us. There is never any screen-time after dinner so that their dream-time is not so invaded by whatever they watched last, rather by homework, the dinner conversation and the books they read before sleeping...does this work?...perhaps; Kasem still has 'nightmares' about events or things viewed during the day but certainly cutting out after-dinner screen time has helped.

The demographic of their school friends means that many kids here are being brought up by their nannies. Last year we realised that when Zaki went to a friends' houses he ended up watching who knows what DVD's, playing what games on various devices and actually not really 'playing' at all. What I do know is he came home firing his 'air gun' at everything that moved and insisting that he get a nintendo ds. Recently when one of Zaki's friends came over to play he brought his own iPad which was full of age inappropriate apps. In the 3 hrs he was here our boys had 2 meltdowns each.
Age appropriate? Who knows but they love the classic comics.

We are using age appropriate ratings as a sort of filter with the boys so that the first thing we look at when searching for a new app, game etc is the age rating. Its there on most games, apps, dvd's, etc...not always the first thing you see but usually there. If it isn't age appropriate we automatically discount it and move on. This seems to work. This website was pointed out to me (on fb) and might be worth checking out when thinking of melting the mind of your young one when exposing them to new media. And this is my next step to try and give them 'centering' tools that can help them through the coming years... meditation...

Would really love it if you could click below and comment on your own experiences, coping strategies and useful tools or websites.


  1. We treat TV and Ipad as a privilage rather than a right and use it as a currency of compliance. There is no TV or Ipad during the week and it is with drawn at weekends for significant transgressions of family rules. He was very resistant at first but the whining quickly reduced as did tantrums. He still occasionally asks why he can't watch TV whenever he wants and I tell him the truth - it shrinks your brain! Also, Its important that the parents set an example. Luckily Malaysian tele makes this fairly straightforward!

  2. We limit our online time to music videos. And only music videos of Freddie Mercury.:) He really provides everything you could possibly want. And a great source of inspiration for Halloween costumes.
    We start every morning with "We will Rock You". It goes well with coffee.

  3. Jono, your comment about 'parents setting the example' resonates when I spend so much time in front of a screen. Zaki asked me the other day 'why do you get so much screen-time daddy?' the life of a consultant/man-mum! good luck with your screen regime...

  4. Amanda we are slowly working our way through rock classics. Sadly our internet is so slow that watching youtube music videos is a painful process. Meanwhile Zaki is learning guitar so hopes (mine) are that he becomes the rocker i always wanted to be.