How Much Screen Time is Enough?

How Much Screen Time is Enough?

Even before their first birthday, most kids these days are intimately familiar with images and entertainment presented to them via screens.  Whether it’s the TV, a tablet computer or a smart phone, screen time is almost an inevitability for youngsters, especially if they have older siblings – hence the reason parents need more information and tips on kids and screen time, including answers to the #1 burning question about it: How much is enough?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for kids under age two, and limiting an older child’s use of TV, movies, video and computer games to no more than one or two hours a day. While this system may fit into the lives of preschoolers, these guidelines must be adjusted as kids grow older. And this isn’t even to touch on the debate about “bad” screen time vs. “good” screen time, although certainly a case could be made that a toddler watching Signing Time DVDs or a middle schooler watching a documentary about healthy eating habits is more valuable than time spent watching meaningless cartoons.

Looking to better manage the role of high-tech devices in your kids’ lives? Here are five tips to help your family keep an eye on screen time

Establish Ground Rules

Kids need to understand that time spent in front of high-tech toys shouldn’t be provided as an inalienable right, but rather earned as privilege.

Specify the exact days, times and circumstances when it’s okay for your kids to be on the computer , using the smartphone or playing video games.  Are homework and chores done?  Is their usage interfering with a family event?  Establish these guidelines ahead of time so there are no questions as to what is acceptable in your family.

 It’s also a good idea to start your quest to limiting screen time at a young age.  Allowing a half hour a day of tech-related screen time for preschoolers, separate from TV watching, works for many of the modern parents we’ve spoken to.

As kids grow older, many families push the daily screen time allowance up to one or two hours and add or subtract time as a reward or punishment for good or bad behavior.  Some families choose to lump all screen time together, while others may specifically call out TV time, computer time or video game time.  Beginning at a fixed base level, such as an hour per day, can make a good starting point, giving you some wiggle room to add or subtract time based on children’s behavior.

Consider Common Areas and Curfews

Where possible, make sure all devices and Internet connections are located in common areas of the house.  Doing so not only allows you to keep abreast of online interactivity, usage patterns and who kids are interacting with as well as how. It also lets you be present when devices are used, monitor playtime and keep kids (or Dad) from secretly sneaking online to play World of Warcraft at 3AM on a school night.

Setting an electronic curfew in your house may also help curtail late night use and improve your family’s overall health by encouraging everyone to sleep when they should.  Choose a time such as 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., depending on your kids’ ages,  after which there’s no more use of electronics.  Create a common docking station for all devices in your bedroom, where all digital devices must be checked in before bed time, and assign a curfew for each one of them. 

Set Device-Free Times

Also, make sure to set aside device-free times that the entire family can spend together.  Parenting experts such as Richard Rende, PhD, associate (research) professor in the department of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, suggest that the use of technology isn’t necessarily what’s dangerous for kids as an impediment to healthy development.  Instead, problems can arise if all the technology and connecting is done at the expense of other proven developmentally healthy and necessary activities.

Many parents require kids to experience one hour of outside time for every one hour of video game or screen time. We encourage you to experiment and find what’s right for your family. 

 Set a Good Example

Setting a good example is potentially more important than establishing these rules.  Make sure you don’t get caught up dedicating your focus to your phone or other screens over your kids.

Whether it’s at the dinner table, or during a weekly Friday night movie or game night, being present and engaged for your kids will ensure a more engaging and rewarding family activity, and show them that it’s okay to disconnect from their screens and connect with others.

Translate Screen Time into Real Life

Play along and engage with your kids about the activities they’re doing on-screen.  They’ll love telling you about what they’re watching, and treasure the time you are able to play together.  Many parents would love to chat with kids about books, but fail to see how games, apps and TV shows also engage their imagination.

If possible, translate the games and activities kids are doing in real life.  If they are enjoying an alphabet tracing app, prepare some worksheets that highlight the same skills.  If they’re playing Angry Birds (or watching you), set up your own Angry Birds course in the house.  If they’re watching Dr. Who, consider working on a project based on a theme of the show.  Screen time’s positive or negative effects are often all what you make of them.

Coupons, Sales and Deals: Best Money Saving Sites

Coupons, Sales and Deals: Best Money Saving Sites

With more than $200 billion dollars spent annually online according to Forrester research, the role of the Internet in shopping and making purchasing decisions continues to increase.  And whether it’s finding the best deals on items you know you want, or purchasing items you didn’t realize you wanted but were the right price, a large part of the appeal of online shopping, aside from the convenience, is being able to save money. Here are some hints, tips and expert strategies – including links to the best websites for coupons, sales and deals that can help you save money online – to help you maximize your dollars when shopping on the Internet.

Use comparison shopping sites.

Even if you’re preparing to make a purchase at a retail store instead of online, it’s still helpful to compare prices online to make sure you have a firm grasp of how much items are available for.  Price comparison sites have made it pretty easy to get quick information from a number of sources about prices on electronics, furniture and travel and more.

PriceGrabber covers many options like electronics, clothing, appliances, cameras and more.  Kayak is a great resource to compare travel sites, and offers continuous monitoring of saved searches in case prices change.  And don’t forget the “Shopping” section on search engines like Bing and Google that can each quickly retrieve options on items from many different online outlets.

Learn how to search for online coupons or promo codes

Before making a purchase, it’s common to want to Google items to see if you can find a promotional code (a sequence of numbers or letters you can enter at checkout to get an immediate discount).  This will often turn up a lot of questionable sites that seem designed for the sole purpose of simply getting you to click on them.  Carefully look at the source for each results. However, many legitimate sites also offer immediate savings: Some of the best money saving sites for online deals include solutions like RetailMeNot, FatWallet and Dealspl.us are better choices than some of the ones with with long hyphenated names in their urls.

Another thing to look for in these results is whether any of these discounts are coming directly from the manufacturer. It may be OK to click on the sponsored ads from your search if it looks like it will take you to the brand’s website. Also keep in mind – not all sites will feature the same offers, so look around for the best deals online.  Not that there are also websites such as Valpak, Red Plum and Smart Source that are extensions of physical coupon mailers and inserts that many receive in the mail or in the newspaper you can reference as well.

Don’t pay just for coupons

Be leery of paying a subscription fee to an online coupon service.  Ask yourself if you think a known brand would align with the site in question by providing special offers to them.  Chances are, you’ll find that the only thing they provide is material you could have found elsewhere on your own for free.

Keep an eye on local group deal and daily email savings sites

Groupon ushered in a new way for consumers to do business, harnessing the power of groups to entice retailers and manufacturers to offer services at a steep discount in an effort to attract customers who otherwise might not ever visit them. However, while the deals can be great, there are also horror stories, such as the  small cupcake bakery in the UK who offered a 75% discount on cupcakes in holiday 2011, only to be swamped with so many orders that they had to pay so much for additional staff and supplies that they lost nearly $20,000. Most are simply great solutions for customers and small businesses alike, though. Signing up for them is free of charge, and since the deals will be e-mailed to you, you can simply delete or ignore those that aren’t interesting to you. 

Here are five of top daily, weekly and local deals sites that we think it’s worth subscribing to. Remember, these are places that will send offers to you, and aren’t outlets where you are able to actively seek deals on specific products (unless they happen to be featuring them).

Groupon

Amazon Local

Plum District

LivingSocial

CBS Local Offers

 

How to Buy an HDTV

How to Buy an HDTV

Perhaps you blinked at some point during 2004, and when you opened your eyes again, high-definition television sets (HDTVs) suddenly dominated living rooms. Just one problem: Many still don’t know how to buy an HDTV – a point of growing concern, as they’re no longer just an extravagant indulgence. Even basic cable stations are constantly optimizing viewing experiences for subscribers who own high-definition sets. And if you or anyone in your family plays a video game console, an HDTV is practically mandatory (vital features, like in-game text, no longer show up clearly on standard-definition sets).

The trouble, as you may have surmised, is that if you don’t know much about HDTVs, the act of buying one can be extremely intimidating: When you walk into an electronics store, you inevitably run smack into the ever-raging price war between television manufacturers. From LG Electronics to Sony, Panasonic, Samsung and Vizio, everybody boasts the best features and highest resolution for the lowest price. Don’t get freaked out, though. You can successfully buy a more-than-decent HDTV set if you adhere to some simple bits of advice that call on your common sense.

Don’t automatically jump for the set with the highest resolution – Most sets that are 40 inches or larger have a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, which is defined as 1080p. A lower-cost option is 1366 x 768 pixels, also known as 720p. 720p is generally restricted to sets under 40 inches, and its picture isn’t quite as sharp and well-defined as 1080p.

However, the cost of a 720p set is typically lower, so if you’re on a budget, you should ask yourself how your new HD set will be getting most of its use. Will it be the centerpiece of your living room theater? Or will it be a secondary set in the bedroom? Weigh your plans against your options before spending big money.

Consider contrast – Contrast (AKA “Contrast Ratio”) is important to consider when you’re buying an HDTV. Contrast determines the difference between the picture’s darkest blacks and brightest whites. A set with a poor Contrast Ratio will wash out colors, which goes against the point of an HDTV.

Manufacturers understand the importance of Contrast Ratio, which is why they’ll often try to demonstrate their sets’ abilities by displaying black-and-white images in a darkened room. Big deal: who watches HDTV in black and white? The best way to determine a set’s Contrast Ratio is to simply eyeball a typical show or movie in natural lighting. Compare sets side-by-side, if you can, and in real-world conditions, versus under the harsh, bright lights many big-box showrooms employ – how they look at the store won’t necessarily reflect how they look, say, in your living room, with its many windows and natural open lighting conditions.

What about plasma? – Plasma HDTV sets give you a remarkably rich and sharp image. Their Contrast Ratio is unmatched, and there’s less motion blur versus what you get from LCD HDTVs. Plasma TVs are definitely an option if you’re in the market for the best possible picture, but there are a lot of downsides to the format, too. Plasma HDTVs are expensive, use more energy than LCDs, and may still suffer problems with image burn-in.

Don’t go crazy with cables – After you buy your HDTV, the salesperson might try and upsell you on HDMI to DVI cables. While you definitely want to purchase HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) cables so that you can view games, movies, and shows with optimal picture quality, some stores sell fancy, expensive cables that are supposed to work better than standard offerings. This typically isn’t the case, as there is virtually no degradation between cable brands. Whereas audio and video “leakage” was a problem in the analogue era, it doesn’t apply in the digital world. Your $15 HDMI cable should work just fine.

Do you care about 3D TV? – Your salesperson might also try and get you to invest in a 3D TV set, but you need to ask yourself how much you care before you spend that kind of money. It’s sure to delight the kids—at least for a time—and you can still watch movies in 2D, but you might be better off trekking to a theater to get your occasional 3D fix.

For more advice on purchasing an HDTV, visit:

HDTV Buying Guide at PCWorld

Don’t Buy an HDTV Without Reading This First at ZDNet

How to Buy an HDTV at PCMag