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Online Time

Being Happy by Meagan Francis

Okay, I admit it: I’m not a mom who puts super strict restrictions on “screen time” or internet use for my kids. Entertainment is changing, and even my younger kids do everything from reading to homework to talking with their friends online.

 
For me, the key to being a happy mom is finding a happy medium: allowing them to communicate with other kids and quench their curiosity, but also keeping family time intact and teaching them not to be too dependent on the internet for companionship, entertainment and information. 
 
Here are some of the guidelines my family goes by:
 
  • Establish priorities. My two older sons have smart phones, my middle son has an e-reader, and my youngest son has an old smart phone that can’t make calls, but still operates over Wifi. Yes, we are a techie family! The rules are the same for all the kids: no online time if there are chores or homework waiting; no getting lost in gadgets when friends or family are over, and absolutely no devices at the dinner table.
 
  • There’s no crying in Minecraft! I’ve been talking a lot with my seven-year-old son about perspective: the ability to tell when something is really important, and put small “disasters” in context so they don’t get blown out of proportion. In our house, the joke is “There’s no crying in Minecraft!” My sons are obsessed with the building game, and can put a lot of time into creating their own little “kingdoms.” Yes, it stinks if you’ve spent a lot of time on a game and things don’t go well, but it’s not the end of the world. And my kids know that if they throw a fit over something that’s happening in an online game, they will probably not see their gadget for the rest of the evening.
 
  • Embrace the positive, block the rest. My life has been immeasurably enriched by the online world, so I’d feel like a hypocrite to deny its benefits to my kids. At the same time, I’ve been around the internet block enough to know that there are things happening online that range from annoying to truly disturbing. My kids have different levels of freedom depending on their ages and we do employ parental controls, but those safeguards aren’t foolproof. Even the little ones understand that they are to quickly “hit the X” if anything comes on the screen that they aren’t sure they’re supposed to see, and to come tell me right away. I’ve heard my sons arguing about whether or not a certain game is “appropriate” for them, which tells me they are paying attention to what I say!
 
The world is changing fast, and I feel good helping to equip my kids with both the technical knowledge they’ll need to navigate the changing realm of technology, and the common sense they’ll need to make good decisions while they’re using it now and in the future. With communication and honest discussion about the ins and outs of the internet – as well as some firm boundaries to help it keep from taking over family life – I think all families can come up with a balance that suits them.
 
 
For more happy thoughts from Meagan, visit www.thehappiestmom.com.