According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Americans between the age of 8 and 18 spend on average 7.5 hours a day using some sort of electronic device, from smart phones to MP3 players to computers. I don’t know about you, but finding a way to help my kids get off the computer or game system, especially when it’s cold outside, can be a challenge. Here are some ways you can help your kids have a balance when it comes to techno gadgets.

What about all that “screen time”? “In and of itself, [it] is neither good nor bad,” says Patrick Lofy of Sylvan Learning in Monroe, WA. “Balance, as in every other aspect of life, is key. A variety of helpful resources have made technology an integral part of our lives and how we learn. While technology has introduced many portals of enhanced learning, it can also be a distraction in kids’ lives – offering kids easy ways to get sidetracked, diverted and overwhelmed.”

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Sylvan Learning, the leading provider of tutoring services to children of all ages and skill levels, gave these tips for parents and families to help us find the right balance for using technology efficiently and effectively.

1. Have clear guidelines for kids to follow. Like all rules for children, the clearer and simpler, the better. If you’re unsure how to start, talk to trusted teachers at school, other parents in the community, or look at good online sites.

2. Set time limits. A good rule of thumb for teens is two hours of screen time per day, including schoolwork. For elementary schoolers, it’s less. You should emphasize no screen time just before bedtime. Dr. Angela Viniarski, a pediatrician in Puyallup, WA, recommends no screen time within two hours of bedtime. The brain, she said, is stimulated by the electronic activity, whatever it may be. A shower or warm bath, and a good book (the old fashioned kind, with pages), or listening to quiet music can be helpful for down time before bed. Decide what will work best for your family.

3. Set place limits. Ban electronic screens at dinnertime, for example, or when the family is having a discussion or enjoying family time together. Many families find that for younger kids, it’s best if the computer is in the family room – not in the kids’ rooms – and used only when an adult is present, monitoring.

4. Schoolwork comes first. Study and chores come before socializing and games. So does anything else you decide – writing that thank you note, going to Sunday school, helping the next door neighbor.

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5. Stress privacy. Explain to your children why you won’t permit them to give out personal information about themselves or their family, to meet with strangers they’ve “met” online, or to spend money online. Just be realistic and firm.

6. Stress common sense. It is good sense not to allow downloading or uploading – music, movies, or photos for instance – without your permission. Show kids how their online words and pictures are, for all intents and purposes, permanent. Just as we watch what we say in our speech, we need to do the same thing online.

7. Be a role model. You’re a role model in everything you do and say as a parent, including using technology. Let the kids see you using your computer, phone, and other devices to make your life easier, more efficient, and more fun. Show how you’re in control of it, not the other way around: i.e. if you say no gadgets at dinner time, don’t pick up the phone yourself.

Technology, when used effectively, helps enable and empower our children’s educational lives. The key lies in setting boundaries on kids’ electronic use. For additional tips and resources, contact Patrick Lofy at Sylvan Learning in Monroe at 360.794.5554. Check out the Sylvan website at

— Grassroots Newswire with contributions by tamacbsseattle

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