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Kids and digital media: removing the fears

Reports of Adam Lanza's war-game obsession and the new FTC rules on children's online privacy help refocus concerns on the effects of digital media on children. But parental anxiety can be channeled toward solutions.

Microsoft corporate vice president Joe Belfiore displays an app with his children during the launch of Windows Phone 8 in San Francisco Oct. 29.


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Here is what many parents face this Christmas:

Among 6-to-12-year-olds, the top wish in gifts is a mobile device – either a tablet computer or a smart phone.

And the top two bestselling video games (names withheld on purpose) involve military shooting.

Add these two together and parents may wonder how they can better safeguard their children from the head-spinning advances in digital devices and digital media.

They are not alone.

The possibility that 20-year-old Adam Lanza was addicted to war-themed video games before his shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., has renewed calls for a government study on the possible link between real and imaginary violence.

And an explosion of software applications – more than 1.4 million now available online – pushed the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) this week to toughen up privacy rules for online services that try to track the online behavior of kids under 13.

Such concerns about media and children should not be alarming, writes media expert Lynn Schofield Clark of the University of Denver in a new book, “The Parent App.” The new digital media can instead provide “an opportunity to change the conversation from one that is guided by fear to one of realism and possibility.”

She points out that the new communication technologies do not raise the level of risk for young people. But they can contribute to social trends already under way, such as isolation and a focus on self.

“We want technologies that assist us in guiding our children as unique individuals, yet we risk inculcating in them a sense that others are sources of competition rather than members of a community in which, in an important sense, we will fail or thrive together,” Ms. Clark writes.


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