The challenges of raising kids in an online world

The challenges of raising kids in an online world
Written by Deb Velto of Oak Meadow

Electronics can be an overwhelming presence in our lives these days, and their use has become a topic of debate–and source of guilt–for families everywhere.

Between our smartphones, iPads, home computers, video games, and high def TVs, electronics are woven into the fabric of American life whether we like it or not.

No one likes the thought of their child staring at the electric glow of a screen all day, but some purposeful screen time can open new opportunities for learning in our homes that was never possible before.

Not All Bad

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The Internet can be invaluable for learning about all kinds of topics and interests. Here are some of my favorite examples:

* The American Library Association has released a list of the Great Websites For Kids, a collection of reliable sources for kids to use to research topics of all kinds.

* Sites like The Mystery Class by Journey North immerse you in a mystery that requires students to use their geography and science skills to find ten secret sites around the world. Hands-on (paper and pencil) mapping and graphing skills are easily integrated into this fun activity.

* Broadcasts from wildlife webcams allow you to watch a mother and baby bear in their den, or a baby falcon hatching in its nest in real time. All About Birds and Journey North are two examples of sites that host nature cams.

* Don’t forget YouTube! Take, for example, Vi Hart’s short video clips where she explores math concepts through the creation of hexaflexagons and other amazing feats of geometry.

* The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website provides a free bird identification app that can be loaded on to your mobile phone, along with other fascinating regional bird facts and information.

A Window into Other Worlds


The Internet allows us access to cultures and places that in the past could only be extensively experienced through travel. International news, video clips, and websites dedicated to entire cultures and ways of life are now a Google search away.

For those of us in less than diverse rural areas, the Internet can provide opportunities to connect to the global community and to appreciate the culture, perspectives, languages, and lifestyles throughout the world. In just a few minutes and without leaving your home, you can find music, recipes, art, and history of almost any culture or region.

Screen Time Together

Sitting together and watching a favorite show or movie, and sharing a laugh with your children over a bowl of popcorn, can be a great way to spend time together. A movie, favorite TV show, or even certain screen-based games together can be quality time if you use it as an opportunity for just that.

Instead of using screen time as a way to occupy your children, try using screen time as an opportunity for some quiet time together, as a way to share interests, or for some family fun on a rainy day.

Screen-Free Fun


We all know that too much screen time is not good for children or adults. Some of us have managed to maintain tech-free homes, but these days most of us rely on some type of technology in our everyday lives.

It is easy to let screens become an ever present force in our lives, and so it is important to power down frequently and get outside for some good old fashioned fun, too!

Let’s face it, some things are better enjoyed offline:

* Board games like Scrabble are much more fun while played sitting around the table with a few of your favorite people.

* Try drawing in a nature journal on a walk where you would normally be snapping pics on your cell phone. Instead, take turns passing around a family nature walk journal to capture the memories of your adventure.

* Some of us will always prefer the feeling of a paper book in our hands.

* Touch screen baking apps will never replace the smell of fresh baked cookies in your house (not to mention, there is no spoon to lick).

* Playing music with family or friends is a fun way to spend your tech-free time.

* Real pets are much more cuddly than virtual pets.

* Viewing a clear night sky through a telescope (or without one), collecting rocks, observing frogs in a pond—basically, science is better in real life.

* There is an online game out there for every sport, but athletes agree that sports are best played with your whole body.

Some low-tech activities can eventually lead to a purposeful project on the computer. Taking digital photos and then using photo software to edit and create projects is a great experience for kids to have.

Young poets and writers who write with a pen and paper can find avenues to share their original work on a variety of websites for young writers. Mountain bikers and runners can use online software to map their routes and share them with other enthusiasts online later.

Finding Ways to Unplug


Hands-on activities and face-to-face interactions offer opportunities to connect with our world and each other. Sometimes finding tech-free time is a challenge, but working it into your family routine can be beneficial.

For example, designating an entire “tech-free day” or a time of day that everyone agrees to unplug is a great idea. Keep family meals free of devices, and an hour of tech-free time following dinner can be some great family down time.

It is inevitable that our children are going to be a part of a technological world, and helping them to find a balance with their use of electronics is an important life skill.

So don’t feel guilty about your child watching that movie he loves (again), but afterwards get out and experience the three dimensional and equally amazing natural world.

Allow yourself time and opportunity to be fascinated by the original “web,” brought to you by your local spider.

What steps have you taken to successfully navigate this online world with your kids?

About Deb Velto

Deb Velto, Oak Meadow's K-8 Program Director, keeps her eye on balancing screen time and media-free time, home and work, and parenting and personal time with her two children.


  1. Thank you so much, love this! The struggle is real!
    Jen’s latest post: Better for YOU: Home Gym vs. Commercial Gym

  2. This is lovely Deb and so helpful. Such wonderful ideas for balance and dropping the guilt. Thank you!!

  3. We like to have our afternoons be our electronic time. Otherwise, the day is free to do anything BUT stare at screens. One of the reasons I limited video games is because I firmly believe that boredom is essential to creativity and with video games, they never got bored. Haha! But we love our screens, too.
    Purva Brown’s latest post: Winning at Homeschooling: It’s Not Enough to Plan – You Must Also Prep

  4. Heather Brady says:

    The Cornell Lab of Ornithology also has a free curriculum:

  5. Great resources! I think another reality is that we need to teach our kids how to interact with technology. I try to teach my son to know his limits with screentime. He has a personality that would keep him glued to the screen all day, but if he uses it for too long, he feels grumpy-dizzy-headachey. I see it as part of my job to help him navigate this and learn to use technology in a healthy balance with other experiences.
    Sarah’s latest post: The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (with kids)

  6. Just wanted to let you know that I sent the link to ViHart to my 9 year old daughter and she said, “what’s this video called On Gender”. I was very surprised and not happy. Normally I can let my daughter watch a channel like that (educational) without political issues being introduced to her. I think others would want to know this, and that they need to be selective as to what videos their children can watch. I tend to let my daughter watch channels and not limit her to selective videos, so this was quite a shock. Thankfully my daughter knows instantly when something is “not appropriate” for her. I know not all kids are that way though!!

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