Today's parents of school-age kids remember a time when life happened without the aid of tablets, smartphones and the Internet. Their kids? They can't imagine a world without texts, tweets and carefully refined status updates.
Babies (babies!) unable to hold a crayon know just how to hit a triangle to launch a Web video. Kindergarteners can edit photos on a phone. Tweens not technically old enough get Facebook accounts with their parents' blessing. And teens? They'll say they couldn't survive without a smartphone and, considering the effort schools are putting into using technology for everyday school work, they're actually kind of right.
But social media, specifically, and technology, in general, is (and has always been) a self-regulating space. Meaning, it's up to the user to keep safe, and set and keep boundaries: not exactly a strength of children and teens whose brains are still developing, particularly in the areas of impulse control.
Which is why parents play the most important role in helping kids learn how to be online. Problem is, parents are figuring this stuff out for themselves, too.
Mom.me bloggers and editors joined Dr. Larry Rosen in a Google+ hangout, where we talked about bringing up babies in the age of digital media.
We used the recent Jason Reitman film "Men, Women & Children" as a jumping off point for understanding how technology is being used—and monitored—in our homes. The film, released by Paramount Pictures last fall, depicts the struggles of parents and teens as they navigate their impulses and fears around social media, and being connected too much online and not enough with each other.
Dr. Rosen, a research psychologist, computer educator and professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, explained his TALK model for negotiating technology in the home. "The 'T' is the cornerstone, and that's trust," he said. Parents and children need to build a relationship of trust around technology use. The other cornerstone is the "K," which stands for communicate, he explains. [Ed. note: Just go with it. TALK is a better acronym than TALC]. "You have to communicate with your kids. You have to talk to them. You have to discuss what they're doing."
Rosen said parents can start by setting age-appropriate boundaries for how long kids are in front of screens big and small.
"When the kids are very young, the ratio of tech time to non-tech time should be about 1 to 5. So, for every one minute they're on technology, there should be about an equivalent of five minutes that they're off, doing something else," he said.
As they get older, the ratio can be closer to one to one. "At about the preteen years ...11, 12, 13 ... for every minute of technology, there should be about an equivalent of a minute roughly of non-technology. And as they get to be teenagers, it's going to flip the other way, because they're using technology in their school. But still, for every four or five minutes of technology, there should be about a minute or two of time that they're off technology."
He said young kids should take breaks after 30 to 45 minutes of screen time. For teens, who often frequently interrupt reading and homework to check messages, Rosen suggests breaks every 15 minutes and every 90 minutes "so they get a chance to clear their brains out—they get a chance to relearn and refocus on what they're supposed to be working on, instead of continually checking in with their virtual world."
Rosen, co-author of "The Distracted Mind" and "The Handbook of Psychology, Technology and Society," gets why teens (and, frankly, their parents) are always checking in. "As human beings, we want to connect," he said. "And so we get to connect whenever we want."
Parents get that, too. What's hard, though, is knowing how to protect kids from the bad stuff while they take part in the good. Listen to mom.me senior editor Laura Clark moderate the hangout with Rosen, mom.me bloggers Te-Erika Patterson and Robyn Welling, and me, Madeline Holler.