High quality content
It’s easy to say “only allow your children access to high quality content”, but much harder to a) control what content they access and b) judge which content can be considered “high quality”. When it comes to controlling which content is accessed, three methods immediately present themselves.
- Watch/engage with content together with your child.
- Only allow your child to watch tv or play on the computer in public areas of the house so you can keep an eye on what they’re accessing.
- Use parental controls to place limits on what can be accessed.
All of these come with their plusses and minuses. As with any strategy for limiting what children can access, they all work best if the child in question isn’t actively seeking ways to bypass the rules. If they are, you’ll need to pay significantly more attention to their activity in this area.
When it comes to judging the quality of content, first check out what other parents are saying. Ask the parents of your child’s school friends. Use online resources like Common Sense Media. We recently asked the Kidslox community about educational apps they recommend and these are their top 10 responses.
Manually raising the quality
Don’t be too harsh on yourself though. Even if you need to just drop them in front of whatever’s on for a bit, you can manually improve the quality of the experience for them. Does that sound odd? How can you manually raise the quality of even the worst show or game?
What is it that makes good content good? It’s content that gets our kids thinking, reacting, solving puzzles, asking questions. Content that demands some sort of response rather than being passively and unquestioningly consumed.
The best content provokes this in them without our intervention, but even the most mundane show can become better quality viewing if you ask your child a few age appropriate questions. “What’s happening?”, “Why is she doing that?”, “Do you think what he did is a good thing?”, “Can you do that too? / Show me”. You get the idea. You can provoke interaction from your child even if the show in question doesn’t manage it.
Spending time together
In fact, “co-engagement” has long been the recommended way of getting the most out of a range of media. Try playing some of those computer games together with them, let them teach you the controls and show you what they can do. Watch some goofy youtube videos together – can your kids adequately explain what’s so enthralling about unboxing videos? Even “high quality” content can be boosted in its usefulness by being watched together with a parent (or potentially with an inquisitive friend, sibling, etc.).
Does your device have any children’s ebooks on it? A lot of the more highly recommended and even prize winning ebooks come with lots of animations and interactions, side games and puzzles. “Educational” as these distractions are purported to be though, they can never replace the value of parents reading to their children. Get the most out of ebooks then, by reading them together with your child. Point out different elements, talk about what’s happening, just like you would with a regular, non-e-book.
Creation over consumption
As I said before, high quality content demands a response. That’s one reason why I love games that include a “level maker” function. The creative energy that kids exercise creating puzzles and scenarios of their own can be fantastic. I’ve noticed that level makers often appeal to specific children though. For some kids it’s one of the first things they check out, they might not be too concerned about even completing the game, just in making something interesting. For most kids though, it’s a nice idea, but not one that they actually delve into very far. Perhaps they might though, with a little encouragement.
Look into the games your kids play and if any have a level builder function, encourage them to try it out. Challenge them to create something specific. Offer to make a level together with them, or to have a go at playing the level they make.
This emphasis on creation over consumption isn’t limited to games though. Encourage it in all sorts of media. If they like watching Youtube celebrities, encourage them to try making some videos. If they’re browsing pictures on Instagram, have them give photography a try. A friend’s teenage daughter loves fantasy films and recently started engaging with collaborative online fan fiction, a creative writing exercise that has her thinking about story arcs, character development and more.
There are numerous inventive ways to tap into the creative outpouring that the internet fosters. It falls to us though to make sure that we’re actively encouraging our kids to actually do that and not be content to just look at what other people have made.