Narrowing the ‘digital divide’ between you and your kids

A new Canadian survey conducted by Vision Critical for Orville Redenbacher found 40 per cent of Canadian parents are "dissatisfied" with the amount of quality time they spend with their children.

Perhaps this isn't much of a shocker as the survey also found 85 per cent of Canadian households have a video gaming system, with children spending an average of 2.1 hours per day playing (solo or with siblings or friends).

Part of this disconnect might be because mom and dad aren't quite up to speed on the latest technology trends, be it gaming, texting, tweeting, BBMing or video chatting. Or they have no interest in it. Or perhaps these devices kids rely on for entertainment and social interaction are more of a solitary activity, thus leaving parents out of the equation.

Sound familiar?

This week I was on a local television show called Daytime Toronto (Rogers) to discuss what parents can do to better connect with their tech- or game-obsessed kids. Now, I'm no psychologist, mind you, so realize I'm coming from the tech side of things -- and a dad of three kids who love their gadgets.

* Impose limits on using these digital devices. The answer isn't taking them away, but using them responsibly and moderately. Some parents have a "no texting at the table" rule, which I like. At our house, video games don't go on until homework is done. While we don't use it, some game systems (like Xbox 360) have optional timers, therefore parents can determine how long the console can be played per day or per week. Experts agree physical activity is critical, to get the kids out and active — and socializing face to face and not screen to screen — such as playing sports or taking dance, gymnastics or martial arts. Also, set a good example: If your face is buried in a BlackBerry when at home, you can't hardly blame your kids for doing the same.

* Don't knock it 'til you try it. OK, so you don't want to look like a complete "N00b" in front of your kids, but just as you might watch TV together or read together, why not engage in interactive entertainment with your kids? Perhaps you might want to first try out the games when the kids aren't around to get used to them a little. Don't worry, you can't "break" the game -- but be sure not to accidentally erase their "saved game" file. Pick a genre you all like, as not all games appeal to the same people. For example, while you might not want to play a violent military shooter like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, consider a more accessible multiplayer game that doesn't require manual dexterity (such as a digital version of a familiar board game, to start).

* Use common sense and tools. While kids are often more tech-savvy than mom and dad, we're the ones who are supposed to protect them from online threats, such as predators, cyber-bullies and inappropriate content. A few suggestions: Rather than placing an Internet-connected computer in a child's room, keep it in a central location in the home, such as a kitchen, family room or any other highly-trafficked area; this also helps to make surfing a family activity rather than a solitary experience. Filtering software, such as Net Nanny, might help reduce the odds your young children will end up on inappropriate websites. Insist your kids never give out their address, phone number or other personal info online, including social networking sites (like Facebook). Experts say to keep an open dialogue with your kids about what they're doing online and how they could aways approach you if they're ever concerned about something.

Readers, do you have a problem with too much technology in the home? How do you deal with it? Do you every try to engage with your kids in their digital world?

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