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Raising Lexington: Raising Digitally Savvy Kids

Media is everywhere, so why not make it work for you and your kids.


“If you can’t beat them, join them” the old saying goes. So with that in mind I have started to become a lot smarter about digital media.

It dawned on me last week when I spent a week with my extended family for a beach vacation. Two teenagers were among us, and boy did they go to town on their smart phones and tablets. My kids were quick to follow suit and it got me thinking about how I handle my kids digital media usage. A while ago we decided that there would be no TV during the week because, frankly, there are so many more exciting things to do -- especially in the summer. I recently extended that to include screen time. No, I wasn’t the most popular person in the house that day, but it was soon forgotten about and we were on to other more pressing issues, like who gets to help dad make the smoothies each morning.

But is wasn’t until my kids were surrounded by their teenaged cousins this past week that I realized, as much as I try to control it, media -- social or otherwise -- is a part of our culture now and it just might be better to educate them about it and teach them the best way to use it to their advantage.

With that, my mom handed me some very interesting material about an organization called Common Sense Media. According to their mission statement, “Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology.”

Yes! Instead of banning it all together I will teach my kids how to use it more responsibly. And maybe, just maybe, schools will start to pick up on this and embrace Common Sense Media’s free (yes, I said free) Digital Literacy and Citizenship curriculum. I was impressed with their Harvard research-based program for students in Kindergarten through 12th grade. I honestly didn’t think Kindergarteners needed to be taught about the Web, but I am sure there are many who have free access to it and arming them with good skills can help keep them safe and help them learn.  

So I can hear you all saying, “But our kids don’t even have enough time at school for the core curriculum and now you want to add digital literacy?” My argument for that -- longer school days -- will have to wait for another article, but I will say that the curriculum that Common Sense has put together allows for a teacher to use it in any order they wish and as much or as little as they wish. A teacher could use a little bit each month or tack it onto an existing lesson. Students could have materials sent home and parents could be taught how to work with their kids to teach it at home.

We all agree that media is here to stay and our kids have embraced the new technology with open arms. Take notice at young children the next time you are out and about and see how many of them are walking with smart phones in their hands, how many of them use phrases like “just text him” or “he Facebooked me” and you will realize media has a strong hold on our children.

With that, I have decided to arm my children with the tools they need to be smart media kids and use the Web to see the first pictures from the Mars rover Curiosity and use the TV to watch the first African American President be elected (had to DVR that one it was late at night!). I have found award-winning educational websites so my kids can learn a little something when they get the treat of using my tablet or smart phone.  And I have used the newspaper (gasp! People still read the newspaper?) to help my kids practice their reading.

Because for me, while I do understand the relevance of digital media and now feel empowered to teach my kids to use it responsibly, there will never be a replacement for a good old fashioned book or periodical.

PK Shiu August 08, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Well said Audra! For our children, there is no such thing as digital media. Just Media. The web, online social networks, online transactions are here to stay. They need to learn to use it smartly. I would add two things. Parents should learn to use them. For example, there are parents who say "I won't use facebook, it is a time drain, I want my privacy". Yes that is true, but parents will have a tough time teaching and monitoring our children about things that they do not use or understand. And encourage children to create digital media, not just consume them. My own 7 and 8 years old rarely play video games, but they spend time making them, using Scratch, software created by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MediaLab (which BTW I am trying introduce to the schools here.)
McGruff SafeGuard August 08, 2012 at 12:54 PM
If you are looking for complete parental control that watches everything kids do on the web (including Facebook) , as well as filters inappropriate websites, and does linguistic analysis to watch out for dangerous behavior - such as internet predators or cyberbullys - look into McGruff SafeGuard's Parental Control software: http://www.GoMcgruff.com You might remember McGruff “The Crime Dog” - Take A Bite Out of Crime - from your own childhood. For FREE iPad/iPhone parental control, check out http://www.GoMcGruff.com/browser


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