Parent Practices for Family Media/Digital Literacy (Part One of Three)

Spring’s blossoming of new life brings opportunity for refreshing your family media/digital literacy menu. “What menu?’ you may ask. “Family media literacy sounds too complicated and too much trouble for what it’s worth.”

I totally understand. It definitely can be. If you are pressed for time, read no further and go here for 100 Family Media/Digital Literacy Activities.

They are categorized into general ideas for all ages, and then specifically for ages 3-5, 6-10, 11-14, and 15-18. I compiled these over the years and now share them with parents I work with in my own coaching practice and also with the family professionals I train to become certified parent coaches.

If you would like to learn three practices to integrate family media/digital literacy into your routine, read on!

As an overwhelmed single mom with two rambunctious toddlers 21 months apart, I knew media literacy was crucially important because of the research I was doing—but where to begin? One night, lying in bed considering this, I thought of Stephen Covey’s famous admonishment, “Begin with the end in mind.” OK, that made sense to me.

So over a few weeks, I developed my END. (I wrote it down, read it regularly, thought about it often.)

I wanted my sons to grow into adults who:

  • Used all forms of media (including paper and pencil!) for healthy purposes for their own well being as well as for the well being of society.
  • Questioned everything they saw and everything they interacted with on any screen.
  • Continually deepened their understanding of the challenges of staying human in a mass media society and their knowledge about how to stay human.
  • Were conscious and conscientious about the fact that mass media and technological devices are owned by a few who need our dollars to exist—an industry mass culture has goals and priorities that don’t always fit with what’s best for humans or for society.
  • Know their own abilities, strengths, and talents, AND understand themselves as creators who go out and create!

As I consider my now adult sons, I am happy to report that I was able to accomplish these goals—and to my relief and surprise—with a few simple yet focused intentional practices that I am going to share with you.

Interjecting family media/digital literacy into my daily routine with the boys wasn’t as difficult as I had imagined. Keeping my intent to raise savvy screen-smart kids at the forefront of my mind each day helped a lot. Soon their ideas contributed to mine and we found ourselves synergistically increasing their media/digital literacy skills—each day, until they left for college.

Practice #1: Control Screen-Time

Teaching kids media/digital literacy skills can only succeed if we first control and manage screen time. Children and teens addicted to screens won’t be teachable for media/digital literacy. Keeping to sensible guidelines for each age and stage of development enables the growing brain to mature optimally. It prevents them from experiencing the significant negative consequences—and there are many.

If you don’t yet understand how overuse of screens impacts children’s and teens’ development on multiple levels, I highly recommend Dr. Victoria Dunckley’s book, Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen Time.

As an integrative psychiatrist, Dr. Dunckley has pulled together the research in a most comprehensive, yet readable way. She tells it like it is and doesn’t sugarcoat the disastrous effect screen overuse has on the developing brain and central nervous system. I wholeheartedly endorse her book for parents who want solid, practical ideas for reducing screen time, so children and teens get their lives back. (As parents do as well!) Reading her book can be a wise first step onto an avenue for significant and sustainable changes.

Dr. Dunckley also posts blogs for Psychology Today. In one of her blogs, she provides six physiological mechanisms that explain electronics’ tendency to produce mood disturbance. If you are always in a battle with your child or teen over screen use, read this one for a better understanding of what is happening and why.

And if you need further evidence, I offer a reading list for interested parents, which includes books, research articles, and websites that offer compelling information and lots of practical strategies. You can contact me at to request a copy.

So…what’s the best screen-time that supports your child’s optimal development and provides the best foundation for teaching media/digital literacy skills?

I highly recommend:

No screen-time for infants through age 2: (Toddlers Ok to face time with Grandparents, of course—but no TV time, no apps for little ones, no I-Pads, no video games—no screen-play at all.) Consider the information in this article before you make any decisions.

Ages 3-5: No more than 1 hour a day, and in three 20-minute increments would be ideal. The rest of young children’s waking hours must be spent in physical, movement, sensory, and imaginative play experiences. No I-Pads, no apps, no video games.

Ages 6-10: No more than 2 hours a day—less if your child spends more than an hour a day on a screen at school. The detrimental effects on posture, eyesight, and general health continue to mount—even business people have started speaking out about the growing concerns.

And for this age group: No Video Games. Radical, I know. But since I know the vulnerabilities of the young brain and how those vulnerabilities create a major risk for screen and/or video game addiction, I cannot in my integrity make any other recommendation. I also discourage giving children cell phones—at least smart phones. There is no good reason in line with their optimal development as children, ages 6-10, to have access to the Internet 24/7. If adults have huge problems resisting the small screen of their phones, imagine the burden owning a smart phone puts on our children? And, some experts think smart phones may even be changing the human race—certainly young children cannot be expected to use such a formidable device wisely.

Ages 11-14: No more than 2 hours a day—less if your child spends more than an hour a day on a screen at school. Non-violent video games may be helpful learning tools at this stage. No social media accounts. Why? There is no good reason in line with their optimal development for children in this age group to have access to social media 24/7.

Ages 15-18: By waiting until age 15 for a social media account (and for a smart phone, ideally), parents have ensured that they have done everything possible to prepare their child’s brain/mind/body/will and spirit for handling the challenges of 24/7 access to social media and the Internet. And I continue to recommend for this age range, too only non-violent, age appropriate video games. Please see my book (with Dave Grossman) Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill for detailed explanations of the research that may help you understand why I am so firm on this.

I know the above may not sound very do-able. But they are based on my experience helping families with this issue, and what I know works best. I also know you will decide on your guidelines. My hope is that if you see your child acting aggressively, misbehaving, getting poor grades, no longer interested in anything other than screen play—that you then take my recommendations seriously. Limiting screen time will make a positive difference for you and your child—I guarantee it.

Let’s now consider some ways to get started reducing screen time that may work for you and your family:

How to mange screen time may be the major question of most parents today. Having worked with thousands of parents, please know I understand your frustration. In fact, my own parental pain around this issue prompted me to jump into this work in 1987 (You can read about my story here) and to begin the Parent Coaching Institute in 2000.

So where is your pain leading you? What is it whispering? Shouting? Urging?

What is the next step that’s right for you? I don’t know what that is. Only you do. Perhaps one or more of these suggestions can be a breakthrough starting point for you:

1.Try a small change and do it as regularly as possible. For instance, trimming off 15 minutes of screen time each day gives your child 105 more minutes a week to spend in the real world. You never know what s/he will think about do, understand, or conquer in those 105 minutes. In one year you have given back 5,460 minutes or 91 hours. Over the course of 18 years, you have gifted your child with 1,638 hours of non-screen time or better put, real-life time.

2. I am a big fan of regular family meetings. With these, you discuss limits, boundaries, and the reasons for them so that during the upcoming week—when life becomes hectic—your child knows your expectations and understands your rules.

3. It’s so much easier to enforce the hard stuff when there is a lot of good stuff going on each day between you and your child. In my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age: Keeping Our Kids Human, I explain five vital developmental needs that often get short-changed in our media/digital culture. I devote a chapter to each with practical ways to implement them into your busy day. When children’s needs are met, it is so much easier to set boundaries with them!

4. Also in that book, I invite you to explore who you really are as a parent—what are your values and priorities? What are your bottom lines and non-negotiables? Taking time to examine “the parent within you” gives you the necessary fuel for the times when you have to set your foot down.

5. My final suggestion (for now) has to do with creating space for awe to show up in your child’s mind and spirit. Human life in our natural surroundings naturally elicits a sense of wonder—an enchantment with nature, for instance, is one of the best immunizations I know of to prevent screen addiction. How much time does your family spend outdoors? Does your child/teen seek (nag you for?) time outside in play, hiking, or walking the dog? If not, starting here would be an efficient first step, since your child’s relationship to nature will healthily impact his/her relationships with self.

In her book, A Sense of Wonder, Rachel Carson, an early environmentalist and the prescient author of Silent Spring, writes:

“A child’s world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement…I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused — a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love — then we wish for knowledge about the subject of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.”

As you “pave the way” for your child to enter adulthood equipped to manage all forms of screen technologies as well as virtual reality, wearable devices, robots, and who knows what else, I invite you to ask yourself:

“What is the END I want to keep in mind NOW?”

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2017. All rights reserved.

(Part Two outlining Family Media Literacy Practice #2 coming soon!)

A New On-Line Risk All Parents Need to Know About

Whether educating children about cyberbullying or giving them explicit rules about on-line safety, parenting well in our screen-machine world requires stalwart dedication and on-going vigilance.

But how do parents help children avoid an on-line risk that parents can’t

even imagine exists?

Consider the story of Elijah Ballard.

In 2012, Elijah was a sixth grader in St. Louis. He used his father’s Visa (with permission) to create a Steam account with the video game company Valve. He downloaded a copy of the popular first-person-shooter game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO). He says that at first, he didn’t care that much for the game.

In August 2013, he tried an updated version and was soon deeply immersed in it.

By early 2014, Elijah had become active in the virtual gambling available through the CSGO Lounge.

By the end of 2014, Elijah had moved to the emerging casino-style websites that were connected to the CSGO world.

By 2015, Elijah’s life had spiraled out of control. His parents could not understand what was happening.

By 2016 Elijah, now 16 years old, was in counseling and recovering from compulsive gambling. And, he was a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against Valve.

As his father said, “Elijah was 13. Who in his right mind would have thought he was compulsively gambling?” Grady Ballard, a dentist, thought that his son was just playing a video game that pitted terrorists against counter-terrorists.

But CSGO has become much more than just a game.

Shaun Assael is a member of the ESPN network’s Enterprise and Investigations Group. On 1/20/2017, he posted an ESPN article which describes Elijah’s journey.

How did Elijah, a vulnerable young teen, get sucked into online gambling so smoothly by playing CSGO?

In 2013, Valve issued a new version of CSGO called “The Arms Deal Update.” It only made a small change. It didn’t affect how the weapons of the game were used, or how the game was played. Now the players could buy distinctive covers for their weapons. The covers are called skins. No big deal, right?

Wrong. This small change, changed everything. The skins had “value” based on their rarity. Most had values of a few cents to a few dollars. But some were rare enough that they were valued at thousands of dollars. The way in which players “win” these skins is through a virtual slot machine, embedded in the game. Players were no longer playing Counter-Strike just as a war between terrorists and counter-terrorists. They were now gambling as well. And their status in the game was now partially determined by their “skill” as gamblers. Did the game become more popular?

Mr. Assael notes that: “Seven months after the arms update was unveiled in August 2013, Valve had 150,000 users playing it at once – a sixfold increase from a year earlier.”

Elijah’s father did not know that CSGO had morphed so that gambling was now an essential part of the game. Nor did he know that the culture and community surrounding CSGO and CSGO tournaments had morphed into the explosive growth of the newest form of online gambling.

Valve created and controls the virtual market where the players can buy, sell, and trade the skins. It is through a related website, CSGO Lounge, that players can use their skins to bet on teams in the CSGO tournaments. But this is all virtual betting. No real money changes hands.

So how did Elijah gain access to casino-style gambling sites that use real money?

There is a “side door” to the CSGO site that allows players to transfer their skins to connected but “unrelated” sites, sites with names like CSGO Jackpot and CSGO Lotto. On these sites, they can convert their skins to real money, and play casino games. Of the estimated $5 billion wagered using skins, about $3 billion was wagered after being converted to real money.

Elijah’s father did not know that there was an open doorway from playing CSGO to active participation in online casino games. Nor did he know there were no restrictions on who could walk through this doorway. It was just as open to a 13-year-old as it was to a 33-year-old.

But it actually gets worse. The casino sites related to eSports gambling are almost completely unregulated. Regulatory agencies are not even looking at eSports gambling. It is, as Mr. Assael notes, “a burgeoning Wild West of gambling.”

How big is CSGO now? In 2016, an average of 342,000 people were playing the game at the same time. But it’s not just the players. There are CSGO tournaments played around the world. The big ones can have million-dollar prize pools. These tournaments last several days, and often have over 100,000 people in attendance, watching live. And, they can have as many as 27 million streaming viewers watching the action. Many of these viewers don’t just watch; they gamble on the outcomes. It’s called eSports betting. In 2016, an estimated $5 billion was wagered using skins.

Elijah’s father said, “Elijah was 13. Who in his right mind would have thought he was compulsively gambling?”

Another way of saying this is: Who in his right mind would have thought that there was an open pathway from playing a video game into an unregulated world of online casino gambling, with enticement to gamble, that is open to children?

How many other children have already been sucked into this world? We don’t know. No one of responsibility and authority appears to be looking.

So that means parents must look to see what their kids are doing and playing on-line. One close look and the on-line risk will become apparent.

Please read Mr. Assael’s article. If you have friends that you think should know about this new on-line risk, please forward this blog to them. If you are connected to a PTA or a church/temple/mosque group that relates to children and teenagers, please share this with that group.

Together we can mount a global offensive to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and other “games” luring our children into the dark, sad world of the compulsive gambler.

Let’s get started!

Copyright 2017, Gloria DeGaetano

Parents’ Place in the Land of the “Digital Native”

Recently I was talking to a friend about a child being a digital native and she looked at me shocked, “Do they really use that term—digital native? That’s sick.”

Now this thirty-something gal is not living under a rock. Helping to raise her six year-old stepdaughter, she is up against all the parenting challenges of our day, just like every mom.

Because of that, and the fact that “digital native” is at least fifteen years old, I found it quite refreshing she hadn’t heard the term before our conversation.

I was also glad she brought up her negative opinion first. Although I have a strong objection to “digital native” too, I don’t usually bring up my concerns. Call me a coward. But over the past few years, I usually lose trying to convince others that the “digital native” designation is downright offensive.

Let me explain.teaching digital natives

Marc Prensky, a game designer with an MBA from Harvard, coined the term, “digital native” in 2001 to describe the new generation of humans growing up with all things digital. Everyone else, “digital immigrants” were visitors to this new land.

Prensky had a point. He cited compelling statistics. Students were spending fewer than 5,000 hours of their lives reading (assuming that reading refers to books only), but over 10,000 hours playing video games and 20,000 hours watching television. (Now remember this was fifteen years ago. Today kids, ages 8-18, spend an average of eight hours daily with small screens, amassing about 30,000 hours in this crucial ten year period of development.)

But equating time with screens means “He or she is a digital native,” misses the bigger picture.

Who says that and why? And what does it mean for families and schools when kids know more about modern communication devices than their parents? Are all parents over the age of 25 obsolete? Are we unknowingly at last living in Ray Bradbury’s The Veldt?

Explicating the issues in an comprehensive analysis of digital native issues, Professor Apostolos Koutropoulos of the University of Massachusetts writes:

“It is clear that in Prensky’s writings, as well as other digital native authors’ writings, that they expect that these statistics (screen time use) hold true across the board, regardless of your socioeconomic background and your country of origin. What’s clear is that the context isn’t really considered. Who is spending all this time playing video games? Prensky owns a video game company so it may be that what he sees every day is what he thinks of the norm, but that doesn’t mean that this norm is universal reality.”

Kouropoulos goes on to point out:

“Other overgeneralizations put forth by authors like Prensky, is that the digital natives prefer images over text, they prefer games over ‘serious work,’ they function best when networked, digital natives can’t pay attention (or they choose not to!), and finally digital natives have skills, with digital technologies, that they’ve perfected….Do those general skills transfer over to the academic side? Could I seamlessly take my skill of posting facebook updates and apply this to an academic context without the help of a more experienced ‘digital immigrant’”?

Other studies show that Koutropoulos’ concerns are warranted. “Most children’s everyday uses of the Internet are characterized not by spectacular forms of innovation and creativity, but by relatively mundane forms of information retrieval.”

Nothing is more important than parents being models and yes, even teachers, for their children in this digital world. Daily decisions parents make determine the quality of our social order now and in the future. This is not hyperbole, this is scientific fact. If we truly understand brain science, we must logically conclude that parents play the primary role in growing or damaging their children’s development—since they are making the primary decisions that will most significantly affect the child’s brain growth for 18 years and beyond. Healthy adults create a healthy society.

So given this baseline, how do parents accomplish optimal brain development for their kids when most of their peers and the industry culture, as well, tells them “digital natives” learn differently and need special handling since they know more than you about all thing digital?

Two Thoughts Come to Mind:

Maintain Our Primary Role as Models and Teachers

While most parents older than 25 will seek help from their kids with tech stuff, we can’t make the mistake of giving up our parental authority because kids know something about computers or social media that we don’t. Teaching our kids appropriate uses such as non-violent video game play and social media etiquette and net safety are parents’ responsibilities. A tech-savvy kid is no excuse for a peripheral parent.

Question the Industry Culture

When someone who owns a video game company makes a big deal about kids learning best from video games, then we may have what used to be called “conflict of interest” and “propaganda thinking” at work. Of course, kids can learn from video game playing. But what are they learning and how does what they learn transfer to other skills they will need and want as self-actualized adults? How does what they are learning make them a better person? Only loving parents can answer that.

It certainly also helps us maintain our place in the land of digital natives when we listen to our parental gut wisdom since it’s usually right on. Check out Marc Prensky’s latest 2016 “stand” on digital native. He is quoted as saying, “The most important thing to realize is that this (digital native term) is a metaphor. It’s not a distinction or a brand, it’s extremely fluid.”

But then, you knew that 15 years ago—didn’t you?

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.


Buckingham, D. (2006). Is there a digital generation? In D. Buckingham & R. Willett (Eds.), Digital generations: Children, young people and new media (pp. 1–13). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, p. 10.

Prensky, M. (2001a). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5) Retrieved from %20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

Prensky, M. (2001b). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants: Do they really think different? On the Horizon, 9(6), 1-6. Retrieved from %20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part2.pdf


Parenting Your Deepest & Highest Expression

Lately I have been pondering what the deepest expression of parenting would be—especially in our complex digital world. A few days ago, Ali Valdez co-owner of Sattva Yoga and an amazing teacher, person, and mom, told us in class, “Take it to your deepest expression.” She made me think/feel/sense…what is my deepest expression for each yoga posture? Am I pushing too hard? Not enough? And then who is the “my” that is expressing right now?

As class progressed, I experimented, finally deciding that my deepest yoga expression is best captured in three essential qualities; the degree of my intentionality, effort (with ease, as we say at PCI), and another quality—hard to describe—but I recognize it when I feel/sense it, as an inner alignment with my integrity.

Since that yoga class I had occasion to coach several moms and as I was listening to all they were doing and trying to do for their children and their families, I realized that they were indeed parenting from, and with, their “deepest expression.” parenting. parenting

Let’s see how intentionality, effort with ease, and alignment with integrity helped two moms make parenting decisions birthed from their core.

Certainly, when our parenting decisions come from our core, we can trust they will touch our children’s core as well.

“That’s absolutely, non-negotiable,” one mom told me as she explained her need to make family dinners, family time, as many nights as possible. Now challenged with sports practices and long working hours, she started thinking with the acumen of a General Patton, strategically planning what she will say, “No,” to in order to keep resolute with the “Yes” in her heart—making dinner with her children, talking with them over dinner, and enjoying an evening of fun time before bedtime.

I could relate. I grew up with plenty of chatter starting with the clatter of forks and spoons as we kids set the table, and ending with the washing and drying of dishes as we put everything away. During these two-three hours I learned so much chiming into conversations where my ideas were respected and considered important. I tried hard to do the same with my sons.

As I listened to this mom, I heard clearly her intention to make dinner time a priority, and as soon as I reflected her intention back to her, she started coming up with creative ideas. She exerted a lot of effort, yet there was ease about it all, too. Oh, yes, she knew this was going to be work to get everything arranged, but she didn’t mind. She was definitely parenting from her “deepest expression” and that anchored her in her values.

And although she knew she couldn’t have every night for family dinners, like she wanted, she realized that four nights a week kept her aligned with her integrity. That was enough to keep her going to make sure her family enjoyed time together, despite considerable obstacles.

Another mom had a struggle of a different sort. She longed for her thirteen-year-old son to stop playing violent video games. Because her husband thought games of torture, rape, and murder were “no big deal,” she was at her wit’s end to figure out what to do. In listening to her frustrations, I heard her deep desire to help her son learn healthier forms of amusement. In our discussion, she honed on her solid intention like a laser beam. From there, the hard work of figuring out what to do started.

Then the a-ha! She realized she wasn’t going to come up with “the answer” in our one-hour coaching session. This noble cause would take considerable effort, along with continuing dedication and perseverance. And she was all in. Her smile and shining eyes showed me there was going to be ease about all of this, despite the mountain ahead of her. She had made the fundamental decision to align with her integrity. It was downhill from here.

Moms and Dads know in their hearts what parenting from their deepest expression looks like.

The qualities of intention, effort with ease, and alignment with integrity may be something to observe. Or you may want to consider other qualities that you have cultivated over time that you know demonstrate you are truly parenting from your deepest expression.

However you approach this adventure, once you know what helps you deeply express and live from your highest (and deepest) values, you will have discovered an on-going treasure for your children and a safe harbor for yourself.


Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.


Great Article, But Is It the Same Old Story (S.O.S.)?

Jane Brody’s July 6 New York Times article, “Screen Addiction is Taking a Toll on Children,” clearly lays out the negative consequences of overuse of electronic media. She gives accurate stats, quotes experts, and shares personal concerns about her own grandchildren to make important points.

As much as I admire the article, while reading it, I thought—with a frustrating sigh—Same. Old. Story. Similar clarion calls about screen dangers have been with us for a long time now.children reading newspaper

For instance, Brody repeats predictable on-going complaints:

“Teenagers who spend a lot of time playing violent video games or watching violent shows on television have been found to be more aggressive and more likely to fight with their peers and argue with their teachers, according to a study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.” Please don’t herald this as new information.

Actually this critically important research has been with us since the 70s, but researchers keep researching it. I guess that’s what researchers do—they research and writers make the research known, as if the new research is new when in reality it is the S.O.S. Few readers realize that when writers make old news seem like new news it distracts us from key issues and even viable solutions.

Brody also states: “Schoolwork can suffer when media time infringes on reading and studying.” Yes, of course. Who wouldn’t understand this connection?

Brody also makes the important point, citing research, of course. “… the sedentary nature of most electronic involvement — along with televised ads for high-calorie fare — can foster the unhealthy weights already epidemic among the nation’s youth.” But wait, isn’t this obvious by now?

In an August 16, 1991 article, Boston Globe columnist, Ellen Goodman discussed the American Academy Pediatrics call “for a ban on television food ads…hard on the heels of a study showing that one Saturday morning of TV cartoons contained 202 junk-food ads. The kids see, want, and nag. That is, after all, the theory behind advertising to children, since few 6-year-olds have their own trust funds. The end result, said the pediatricians, is obesity and high cholesterol.”

Sounds too familiar, doesn’t it?

I would enjoy seeing mass media tackle such questions as: “Why is school work and health taking a back seat to screen entertainment and communication for most kids, when most parents, schools, and all of sane society promote and know the value of excellent health and a solid education? Now there’s something interesting, dare I say even new to most, for discussion and debate.

You’re probably too young to remember Maria Winn’s seminal work regarding TV addiction. First published in 1977 (and revised in 1985, 1987, and 2002). Television: The Plug-In Drug, (A quaint title through our Goggle glasses, don’t you think?) related story after story of families unable to stop watching TV, even after a year of being paid not to watch—they went back to watching even more TV after screen-free time.

So dear friends, please remember, especially come next April with hyped Screen-Free Week: Weeks, even months off screen crack don’t work, never worked, and never will work. But that’s another story for another time. Yet, it’s the Same. Old. Story, isn’t it?

Jane Brody’s follow-up July 13 New York Times article. “How to Cut Screen Time, Say ‘No’ to Yourself First” offers sound advice to parents—the people fully in charge of and responsible for children’s screen time. Suggestions such as not to be on the phone when picking up children from school or keeping dinner time phone-free, so parents and children can talk to one another are excellent suggestions. Put in perspective, though, they are the S.O.S.

Why do today’s parents need such common sense advice in the first place? Why are they seemingly abdicating their responsibility? No easy answers here.

Consider Goodman’s astute 1991 observation, a refreshing deviation from the S.O.S. “…it occurs to me now that the call for “’parental responsibility’” is increasing in direct proportion to the irresponsibility of the marketplace. Parents are expected to protect their children from an increasingly hostile environment.” She goes on to emphasize, “Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to them.”

And as Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, then a research associate at the Institute for American Values, explained in this same article, ”Parents see themselves in a struggle for the hearts and minds of their own children. It isn’t that they can’t say no. It’s that there’s so much more to say no to.” Remember, she said this in 1991. In 2015, Brody admonishes parents to say “No” to themselves, adding yet another “no” on the toppling digital cake.

In 1994 Dr. Thomas Lickona’s seminal book, “Raising Good Children: from Birth Through the Teenage Years,” cited research that showed US parents talked with their elementary school aged children in actual conversations (Not counting parental questions as, “Did you do your homework?” Or commands like, “Pick up your room.”), ten minutes a week. Yes, you read that correctly. Parents and children were disconnected back then, too.

Today, with portable devices shadowing what used to be real life, with even more to say no to, we are beyond a crisis in parent-child communication. And with more to say no to, how do parents figure out what to say yes to?

I would like mass media to consider deeper questions such as: Why a small screen so easily replaces life so completely that well-intentioned, well-educated, loving parents can’t see what havoc it wreaks on their everyday life—not to mention their child’s cognitive, social and emotional well-being. And what if anything should be done about it? And if anything should be done about it, why do we think something should be done about it? What are the purposes of screens, anyway? How do they enhance our lives? What would life enhancement by screens look like? Feel like?

Of course,  mass media can’t tackle such questions. Complex ideas necessitate more to think about—let alone write about—than the typical S.O.S.

But we can and must think new, complex ideas and share them profusely—with our friends, associates, relatives, on our blogs, in our emails, and PTA Newsletters—unless we want to remain in the oscillating pattern of the S.O.S, which keeps us trapped, pointing out the ever-increasing problems, proclaiming parents need to do something about it, and then telling parents what to do about it—ad nauseum.

A major piece missing from the S.O.S. is the fact that parents are caught up in a tech tsunami and have little, and often no understanding of, how their digital habits are affecting their children. Even with the thousands of articles and hundreds of books.

Writing about the issues doesn’t mean that parents are learning about them.

And even when parents know the dangers of over-use of screens on their children’s psyche and development and really want to do something to change the situation, that doesn’t mean they can put the great ideas of the S.O.S. into practice in their daily lives.

Telling is not educating and information is not working knowledge.

To change the S.O.S. one of the first steps is to simply acknowledge that we are in a complex system with many influencing factors. (What Ellen Goodman was doing in 1991.) We need to get off our high horses thinking that telling parents what to do will solve our problems.

We all want to belong, even moms and dads. This is fully human, but easily side tracked in our society. Researching through Siri or finding the best app to monitor our calorie intake or texting a friend for a new recipe or during any of all the myriad of human uses for the machines, we show we are an integral part of the whole of an amazing technological world. We demonstrate we are caught up (in more ways than one); we know what we are doing in our high tech world. And yes, maybe we are even cool because we have the latest i-phone or now wear that watch.

Yet, in the midst of our screen use, most of us aren’t saying, “Wow, now I belong to a handful of men who own and operate the technological world. Isn’t it wonderful that they constrain my choices, decide the time I will spend in actual conversation with my children, and basically dictate my daily schedule?”

No, the S.O.S. won’t discuss that underlying reality. But I hope you will.


Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.

Swiping Isn’t Creating, But We Know That, Don’t We?

I am currently coaching a conscious single mom who diligently limits her two-year old’s access to her cell phone. Not. Easy. Yet, this mother truly understands that swiping doesn’t give her little one a chance to create. She knows her son needs to feel this beautiful world with all his senses, using the stuff of this beautiful (wood, straw, sand, clay, paint, etc.) world to manifest something—anything—into reality that springs forth from his creative mind. It’s this conceptual anchor that buoys her up when she is tempted—and she is tempted often, of course—to hand over the cell phone and just be done with it already.

But she doesn’t. She knows she won’t and can’t be done with it until her child is an adult. Until then she gets to make the decisions about what she will and won’t allow into his experiences. That’s her job, after all.

I love coaching parents like her who really want to do their best and are doing their best in the face of so many odds against getting it right for their children. I believe it is a moral imperative of our times to help parents figure this out—since the high tech industry isn’t. And won’t. So, I do. And I help other family support professionals do the same.

One way I found to be successful is to re-frame the situation as a creative opportunity for parents—now they get to dig deeply into their inner Creative Source to figure out how to entertain a a young child without using a smart phone. Using a smart phone to keep a baby occupied is a dumb idea writes Michael Miller in Washington Post article. I concur. And that’s why I affirm this mom (and all my clients): “You are a smart mom, smarter than any smart phone and you know that!” And she does. baby swiping

Swiping isn’t creating. Don’t be fooled by the bill of goods pushed on you. That it’s OK for babies and toddlers to use screens to learn. Hogwash. Their brains’ architecture isn’t constructed yet to take the full advantage of learning by screen. A baby or toddler who swipes will be more at risk for attention and self-regulation problems, aggressiveness, and anti-social behaviors. You can count on it. Since swiping robs the young child of precious time necessary to explore the natural world, the child can’t possibly grow up in tact as a human.

The magical child within in today’s society has no voice and is fast being replaced by the tiny technocrat which is absurd when you really think about it.

I have devoted a chapter on Creative Expressions in my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age, including it as one of the 5 essential needs that make us and keep us human. In our screen-machine age a lot of folks are getting mixed up about what constitutes creative expression and what doesn’t. Handing over a flat surface, screen-machine to any human creature under the age of 3 doesn’t constitute an opportunity for his/her creative expression within the definition of creative expression appropriate for that age and stage of development.

2D vs. 3D Reality or Screen Machines are Not the Natural World, But We Know That, Don’t We?

The cell phone or the i-pad or surface tablet, or whatever, is a two-dimensional flat surface. When swiping, the youngster’s attention is on a partial view not the whole view. Losing one entire dimension is a big thing at this age and stage of development. The way society remains neutral about this fact frustrates and angers me because with just a bit of accurate information and non-judgmental encouragement, well-meaning parents could do so much better by their youngsters. And eliminate  many future pitfalls as well.

If we think we have problems with autism, sensory integration problems, lack of self-regulation and the other plethora of  concerns emerging in recent times, just wait a few years and watch these skyrocket as young humans deprived of their most essential need—to explore their natural environment—become ever so reliant on screens for feelings of satisfaction and pseudo-fulfillment. And if we think our schools are failing our kids now, in five years (60 months) from now when these swiping babies enter kindergarten, you will see teachers and school districts scrambling to figure out how to put their fingers in the dike, when they are not using them to pull out their hair.

Is it too late?

The trouble began when six month old fingers started swiping instead of cuddling a soft toy, shaking a rattle, or holding a hand. The trouble got more complicated when those two-year old fingers swiped even more and missed opportunities for molding mud pies, digging in sand, even finger painting–on paper.

Let’s face it, after age five years of swiping those fingers will have completely forgotten their earlier marching orders. Swiping is what they will know best and what they do best. All the rest…well, why do it?

Before that time arrives, let’s hope that adults’ Creative Expression will soon kick in. If adults can quickly figure out productive ways to keep a baby and a toddler interested in the natural world more than the screen world and participating in the natural world more than the screen world, we have a fighting chance of giving our children an enriched human life—a life in which they know themselves as creators. A life in which they enjoy creating from their highest Self, for their highest purpose.

Without such a life they can’t possibly love and respect the natural world and their place in it. But we know that, don’t we?

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.

Protect Your Parenting Identity in an Industry-Culture

How do parents maintain a clear “parenting identity™” in a society always throwing us curveballs? How do we look beyond the sham of a commodified culture to what is most meaningful within us? A strong sense of self keeps our parental priorities straight, our authentic authority intact, and allows us a sense of creative freedom in our parenting that we can’t get from anywhere else.

In addition, being content and clear with who we are helps our children consider carefully who they wish to become. By transmitting our clear identity to our children—consciously, intentionally—they grow to be clear in their own identity. And what a great gift that is!

Children with a strong sense of self are much less likely to go along with the crowd and are more likely to take an unpopular stance and come out unscathed because they believe in themselves and what they stand for. Firm in their convictions, their inner world takes precedent over the outer one. And paradoxically, they navigate the outer world successfully and with much more ease than kids always looking “outside of themselves” for the answers.

To grow future innovators and leaders, parenting from a strong sense of your own identity is key. 

In my research over the last 30 years, I discovered two fundamental ways that help parents stay clear on their “parenting identities™” and communicate it effectively to their children.

 Know Your Values and Don’t be Shy About Telling Your Children What They Are

“If everyone was like our family, then we would be the weird ones, and not me.” That’s what one mom told her son when he was complaining about taking nutritious lunches to school when all his friends were eating Twinkies and Lunchables™. Taking time to do what we value, like providing healthy lunches for our children, may be unpopular in a culture that usually “pushes” the opposite of what is healthy and helpful.

So in our “industry-culture” making daily decisions from our core beliefs may not be possible each and every day—but definitely worth striving for on a daily basis. And when we fail, (which we all do) we must be gentle with ourselves and begin again, knowing it’s natural to be hard on ourselves when we don’t follow through in what we believe in.

Robert Quinn, in his book, Change the World, calls this “diminishing the self.” We all do it, yet when we do, we pay for it. “When we feel ashamed of something we’ve done, we get more divided. We feel bad, in part, because we know that we have the potential to be more than we are, yet here we are choosing to behave in ways that increasingly diminish the self. The more divided we become, the more disempowered, worthless, and unlovable we feel. (1)

When we find ourselves face-to- face with “our divided self” we can look within and ask ourselves: “What do I do next time with my kids that reflects what I truly believe in and not what the world wants me to believe in?  How do I talk with them about this?”

And there’s always a next time. The beauty of these “failures” is that they cause us to keep refining and clarifying what is most important to us. Soon our parental values and our parenting priorities are aligned and we and our children know this and feel it in the energy and aliveness—the vitality it brings to our family and everyone around us!

 Tell Your Stories—Unabashedly

When you tell stories about your past you re-connect to your traditions and values passed to you by your ancestors. Sharing these stories with your children is a great way to help you remind yourself of you parenting identity—where you came from and how you got to be the parent you are–most likely refining their ways and learning from them who you want to be and who you don’t want to be.

The importance of stories to connect and bind resurges often in social science research. A recent article in The New York Times punctuates the fact that telling your stories, not only provides a clear identity to your children, it also helps them become more resilient, more capable in the midst of challenges.

The article cites the work of Marshall Duke, at Emory University. He and his team set out to test the hypothesis:

“Do kids who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges?”

The researchers asked questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001 and taped several of their dinner table conversations. The types of questions they asked on their “Do You Know Scale?” were: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

“They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.” (2)

Why? When children know their personal history they have a strong foundation upon which to build their own.

Our personal stories are also important records of our personal history. They let our children know they belong to us—not to Facebook or the latest app! In Parenting Well in a Media Age, I describe the need for parents to create a “personally-generated culture” through telling their stories and supporting the feeling of belonging by helping children contribute to the family and to that which is greater than themselves. This is extremely powerful for developing a sense of self because the individual self is always a part of something larger than itself. When the larger whole—or society—is healthy, it’s easier to grow up with a strong sense of self. But when the larger society such as ours is wrought with negative messages and inappropriate images—daily, unrelenting throughout 18 years and beyond—it becomes increasingly imperative for parents to consciously create a “safe have” for their children which in no uncertain terms makes it crystal clear: “You belong here, with us. And not there, with them.”

“You belong here, with us. And not there, with them” has become my mission. Remembering where our children belong keeps me fueled to help parents protect their “parenting identity™” however and wherever I can.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2013. All rights reserved. 


 1.  Robert Quinn, Change the World, How Ordinary People Can Accomplish Extraordinary Results, (Jossey-Bass, Inc., 200, p. 78.

2.  Bruce Feiler, The Stories That Bind Us, The New York Times on-line, March 17, 2013,





Empathy is for People, Not Toasters

When I read the article in last Sunday’s New York Times “Talking-Walking Objects” I kept shouting out “Why?” and “Oh, No” as if the author could hear me or cared if she did.

Why a raincoat that whistles “when I need it?”

OK, so now a raincoat is telling me I’m oblivious when it’s raining outside. Or worse yet, I have forgotten that I have a choice here and can in my humble humanness choose not to wear a raincoat on a rainy day, a hallmark of true Seattleites by the way, who don’t easily succumb to our usual daily reality. And will this smarty-pants raincoat be able to make distinctions between drizzle and gales, I wonder. But why am I asking that question in the first place? Wearing a raincoat that whistles to alert me that’s it’s raining is downright creepy. Or at least it seems like that to me today…

And why do I need a fork that vibrates, telling me to slow down? If I want to eat fast because I have to pick up the kids in an hour before I drop by the cleaners before it closes—then a fork intruding on my necessary fast pace is just plain annoying. I’m stressed out enough. I don’t need a simple, innocent fork be become “evil fork with a vengeance.”

And I don’t want my vacuum cleaner to feel jubilant after my carpets are clean, thank you very much. I want to feel jubilant.

And I don’t want my cutting board to offer me “helpful tips if my knife skills aren’t up to par.” I would rather bleed than have a machine lead me to believing I’m an incompetent cook.

If I start getting texts from my washing machine when my laundry is done, I may just choose to go back to the nearby watering hole and hand wringers. And spare me the “robotic parasites” around my wrist to remind me when I sit too long and I’m not exercising enough. Hey, if I want to shorten my life—that’s my business, not yours. When I meet my Maker I may have a legitimate case—“But I resisted the machines and relied on myself. Doesn’t that count for something?”

Why do some people in high tech think that humans in their everyday life need machines that blink at us coyly, remind us constantly, and give “emotional value.”  Don’t we get enough of that from friends and relatives?

The article concludes with:

“Despite the potential risks, (Yeah, right…) the future will be rich with sensor-based, animated objects using expressive sound, light, motion and screens to praise, encourage, advise and comfort us.”

 “Oh, No.…“Why?”


The I-Potty: Left To Their Devices, What’s Left?

This recent post on my Facebook page about a new i-potty for toddlers prompts me to stop what I’m doing today and to reach out to you dear readers, asking you to take a moment to consider:

  • Once a technology gets imbedded in our society, there’s no turning back. We adopt and adapt. Can we do both mindfully?
  • Do we actually want little ones to grow spending more time with screen machines than with real life? (We can still agree what real life is, can’t we?)
  • How do we help moms and dads make wise decisions for their youngsters in the service of optimal child development? (Even though yes, they are busy, overwhelmed, stressed beyond measure. I love how scholar and digital literacy advocate, Douglas Rushkoff puts the absolute need to tame the devices in childhood: “…the physical world — a place kids must learn to navigate before they are equipped to venture into virtual ones.”

I and the PCI Coaches I train, so agree. When we support parents with understanding the negative impacts of overuse of any form of screen technology, they muster up the will to make the tough daily decisions. Why? Because they begin to understand what is lost for their children forever if they don’t.  

The iPotty is a child’s potty with a built-in iPad stand. Its makers say it can be used “for entertainment”, or to help children toilet train.

I’d like to share the title poem from my book, Left to Their Devices, What’s Left? that I wrote to capture some of that loss. After seeing this new i-pad potty, I am needing to be reminded to muster the energy and the will to work for age-approriate, wise use of digital devices. How about you?

Left to Their Devices

The gadgets seduce our young in a modern-day siren song, promising power, but delivering addiction.

Children imprisoned in a screen-world, can’t remember what they never experienced—God’s close world of warm breezes touching apple cheeks, soggy soil squeezed through pudgy fingers, the wonder of dandelion fluff blown sky-high by a single breath.

Distracted from essential earth, how will children know real human connections tested in trial and renewed in embrace?

Preoccupied by the trivial, do they hear their deep Selves starving for the authentic?

Attention distorted, spirits mangled, will crushed, still—we leave them to their devices.

Left to their devices, childhood becomes a barren terrain and adolescence a consumer carnival.

Left to their devices children see empty reflections in the mirror of a social network, desperately seeking themselves in others.

Left to their devices, we abandon children to predatory practices and call it capitalistic competition.

Left to their devices, we strangle parental power to insure our kids belong to the crowd.

Left to their devices, children miss what they want most and don’t even know it passed.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2013. All rights reserved.


Information and Wisdom—Important Distinctions for Successful Digital-Age Parenting

We’re a stalled society—not where technology is concerned, of course. The devices continue to grow and improve. Technological society seems sound and doing well, headed for more Siri-type know-it-alls, VR, and embedded chips. But what about the people using the technology? How are we doing? Are we growing and improving as humans, alongside technology’s progress?

I hate to throw a damper on your day, but the age old questions since the early 50’s when TV entered the family living room still need answers: How do we control it? (Today “it’ means the Internet, along with TV, video games, and all our hand-held devices) How do we use it and not be used by it? How do we manage to attend to and enjoy 3-D reality without getting all wrapped up in 2-D “reality” and teach our children to do the same?

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