Q: My daughter is 7. Several kids in her class have e-mail accounts. Two have Facebook pages. Another went to see "New Moon" with her mother. I think all these things are inappropriate for a 7-year-old. I'm uncomfortable allowing my child to go on playdates at these homes not knowing what types of activities are allowed. Is it appropriate to decline these invitations? Or should I explain to my child why we don't allow her to do some of the things her classmates get to do? - Mother in Appleton, Wis.
Let's face it: We live in a digital world. "This is a wonderful opportunity for the mother. It doesn't have to be a threat," says Eitan Schwarz, M.D., author of "Kids, Parents, and Technology: An Instruction Manual for Young Families" (MyDigitalFamily.org, 2009, $26.20).
Follow your instincts. Don't be afraid to take charge, the psychiatrist says, but don't be afraid of technology, either. Work out a plan that suits your family. "At this age, the parent has to be along for the ride," he says. "The mom can select media experiences that she is comfortable with rather than opting for total prevention."
There's nothing about technology that's different from, for example, asking another mom what kind of snacks she will serve because your child has allergies or what kind of pets the family has because your child is afraid of dogs, Schwarz says. Legitimate questions: Do you allow access to the Internet? Is there unrestricted cell-phone use?
"If you're uncomfortable, then decline the invitation," he says. But also explain to your daughter that other families might not have the same rules or values about using cell phones, visiting social networking sites, playing video games and watching movies online.
A national survey released in January by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that with technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access, the amount of time children and teenagers spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically. Kids ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours using entertainment media in a typical day. And because they typically use more than one medium at a time, they actually pack closer to 11 hours' worth of media content into those 7.5 hours.
The not-for-profit group Common Sense Media suggests that parents:
Pay attention. Mom and Dad have to know where their kids are going online - and what they're doing there.
Establish limits. Phone time, video download time, destinations. There's a right time and place for everything.
Make kids accountable. If they have a privilege, make sure they earn it.
Learn to text, send a mobile photo, set up a Facebook page, upload a video. Or have your kids show you how. Avoid anxiety by knowing how things work.