As parents, we’re always looking for ways to have more time with our kids. When back to school season arrives, they’ll have weekdays full of classes and activities, evenings full of homework, and weekends full of events. In addition, today’s high-tech gadgetry constantly draws their attention away from us. Put the two together, and you’ve got a real recipe for . . . togetherness?
That’s right, says David Walsh, Ph.D., author and founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, which aims to maximize the benefits and minimize the harm of media on the health and development of children and families. “These technologies that can isolate us are designed to help us connect. With a little effort, we can use them in positive ways with our kids. There’s no better time to begin than the start of the school year.”
Here are Walsh’s tips for sharing the back to school adventure with your kids the e-way:
Like most kids, yours have probably mastered this. You can, too. It’s surprisingly simple, and once you get the hang of it, it’s extremely fast (which is why your kids can send hundreds of messages a day). “Rather than simply trying to put a lid on it,” says Walsh, “re-direct it into positive family communication.” During back to school week, you can all avoid the dreaded “How was it?” question by asking your child to “text” you about interesting events from the day (be sure they wait for appropriate breaks between classes, of course). Return the favor by texting her about your day. Be sure to read her messages before you sit down to dinner, and you’ll never run out of conversation.
Hint: Let your kids teach you the proper texting lingo. They’ll love the opportunity to instruct you, and they’ll be thrilled to see you use it by communicating back to them.
Kids love to make their own movies, whether they’re using a camera or a cell phone. Team up with your kids to create mini travelogue videos of your back to school shopping trips together, or a tour of the new school they’ll be attending. Be sure to post them to an appropriate online site for relatives and friends across the country.
Hint: Let your kids edit the videos on the computer, so they can chop the dull stuff and add music. Then host a family film festival so everyone gets their chance to be in the movies.
Kids love to go to online destinations, such as FaceBook and MySpace, so why not go with them? “In addition to their own sites,” Walsh suggests, “create and maintain a site together related to a school subject you both enjoy.” You can photograph and write about your shared passion for creative science projects, or record your walk through a year of US history with period costumes, crafts and food. The time you spend together on the activity and the site will be priceless.
Hint: Consider starting a family blog.
When it’s time to take a break from the studies, there’s nothing like a great game that everyone can enjoy. The mesmerizing Planet Earth nature series offers a home DVD-based board game, where teams compete to answer multiple choice questions from the series using the TV’s remote control. Try a kids versus grownups challenge.
For some real virtual action, spend time with your kids on their Wii system, which features all sorts of sports and wireless handheld controllers, so you can actually stand up and “play.” Challenge your son to a motocross race, or try to get a bat on your daughter’s fastball. Just be sure to move the furniture away first.
Hint: “Use these virtual experiences to excite your kids about the real things,” Walsh advises, “then go out and live them.” For example, after your kids marvel at the birds they see on the DVD, go online to look up pictures of local birds, then spend a couple of hours at a nature park on Saturday afternoon to see how many you can recognize. Be sure to bring a camera (or cell phone) so you can share your sightings with the rest of the family.
School responsibilities mean our kids have less time with us. High tech gadgets threaten to steal away the few moments that remain. By investing a little time and effort, parents can start the school year by mastering a virtual toolkit of gadgets designed for the most important thing: connecting with our kids.