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8 Rules for Family Screen Time


Treat your Facebook profile like the family home. Most parents know the basic rules of social networking: Don't post photos of your children that may be inappropriate or embarrassing (that photo of your son in the bathtub will still be online when he's in junior high), and don't divulge the detailed comings and goings of your family (“Shawn Bean is about to leave on a 14-day cruise with his family”).

Facebook allows you to customize settings, so you only share what you're comfortable with. Think of your profile as your home: You wouldn't let a third party determine when to lock the doors or close the blinds, would you?

To get started, click “account,” then “privacy settings.” If you post photos or videos of your children online, set the filter to “friends only” (the default setting is “everyone”). “I suggest talking to friends and family about what you're comfortable with them posting as well,” says Cabot. You can also determine who sees the photos and videos your family is tagged in.

“This is the era of technology. Let them be good at it. It's all about finding a balance, but I don't think it's fair that a lot of parents want to completely cut out technology.”
estela triglia, via facebook

A parental control does not double as Dad. A couple of months ago, I handed my son Jackson my BlackBerry so he could see a picture from last Halloween. When he handed the phone back a minute later, the screen read “Are you sure you want to download this Brooks and Dunn ringtone?” There's no telling where a few errant clicks will lead a kid online, so constant supervision is necessary.

Create a family tech zone. The family computer should be in a high-traffic area that can be easily supervised (not in a bedroom or hidden alcove). Cabot adds that downloadable filters and parental controls “are helpful, but you can't rely on them.” You wouldn't leave your kid alone in a place that wasn't childproofed, and the Internet certainly doesn't have covers on its power sockets. “Our morals should be the same in the digital world as they are in the real world,” she says.

You are the superhero. Technology is the trusty sidekick. When Cabot's children heard that Michael Jackson had passed away, their first question was “Who is Michael Jackson?” She broke out her iPad and showed them videos of the King of Pop performing live. “Technology is at its best at those teachable moments,” Cabot notes.

Technology can also coordinate a family schedule in as little as 25 characters (“Can u do pickup today?” “Yes”) and connect us with those in-laws in India. But like Pavlov's dog, we have been trained to take immediate action every time the alluring ping of a new message sounds. Do our children need a kitschy ringtone for us to respond to them as promptly? It's imperative that we manage technology, not the other way around.

We are right smack in the middle of The Transition, our collective shift from analog to digital. (See: Hulu; mp3; Kindle, Amazon.) But there is a fundamental difference between the two. It's the difference between thinking and thoughtful. We are hugs, not likes. We are conversations, not status updates. We require growing up, not software updates. Let's make sure to strike the right balance, and take the best parts of the analog world with us.