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Facebook. YouTube. Video games. Texting. Every day, there's something new in our kids' digital lives. Getting up to speed -- plus giving our kids guidance and limits -- is a daily challenge.
But here's the thing: You don't have to become an expert in all things digital in order to know what your kids are up to. The six steps below will give you a solid understanding of your kids' main media activities so that you can develop a strategy to manage them. Media and technology are huge parts of our kids' lives. By getting involved, you can help them use these tools responsibly, respectfully, and safely.
Visit an online social networking site. If you have young kids, check out Club Penguin to see how children use this virtual world. Embrace your kids' enthusiasm, but educate yourself about what goes on. Get a Facebook page, or sign up for Twitter. Ask your kids to show you their pages.
Play a video game with your kid. Even if you're not a gamer, you can have fun (and gain a lot of insight) by playing along with your kid. Try one of the Guitar Hero games or Beatles Rock Band. Play a sports game on the Wii, or pass a football with Madden. The best way to keep kids away from violent games is to enjoy other games together.
Download something your kids will like. Pick a song they've never heard. Then ask them to play something for you that you've never heard. Have a conversation about the music.
Check out YouTube. YouTube is pretty much mandatory viewing for kids of a certain age, so click around and watch some videos. Visit the comedy section and enjoy some laughs with your kids.
Take control of your TV. There are lots of ways to exert more control over what your kids watch. You can use a digital video recorder, on-demand programming, and websites like Hulu to watch what you want when you want it. This allows you to be choosier about what your kids see. You can preview the shows, fast forward through the ads, use the mute button, and avoid the stuff you don't want your kids to watch.
Learn how to manage your kids' digital lives. When you give your kids digital devices -- cell phones, computers, and other personal electronics -- set rules around responsible, respectful usage. Check in on where your kids are going online -- look at browser histories, set appropriate age filters, and check out the parental controls. Teach your kids the basics of safe searching (Google has a safe-search setting), and give them a digital code of conduct. Don't let them figure it all out by themselves.