How Can Brands Help Kids and Families Navigate the Digital Revolution?

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When Boomers were kids, playing in the stream meant just that. But now, it refers to a generation of kids “with the average preschooler now more able to play video games than ride a bike or tie a shoe, and with three-quarters of all middle school- and high school-age kids already owning a phone.”

So when, how much and from whom should our kids be learning about digital technology? After all, we can’t leave it all up to Salman Khan.

Sara DeWitt, VP of PBS Kids Interactive, believes the transmedia approach to learning works best with kids today and comments on the ease of touchscreen technology in this video from SXSW 2012: “How Kids Learn With Technology.”[more]

As Adweek puts it, platform-agnostic video is “transforming the children’s TV market—and what it means to be a kid. Children’s TV may have a problem on its hands: to a large slice of its target demo, a television is just a dumb iPad. Consider these stats: Cable viewership among kids 6-11 was down 13 percent in the first quarter, following a 6 percent decline in Q4 2011. Meanwhile, some 70 percent of children under 12 in homes with tablets use them regularly, and 51 percent of kids between 5 and 8 across all households are on the computer several times a week.”

Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, calls for a “culture of responsibility” that starts with governmental regulation and includes law enforcement, educators and parents in raising kids safely in a digital world.

“We need to be preparing kids for their digital lives,” said Scott Steinberg, author of The Modern Parent’s Guide book series and host of video show Family Tech: Technology for Parents and Kids. “We need to recognize the paradigm shift. Change needs to happen yesterday. We have an entire generation now growing up for whom technology is second nature.

The first book in his series is available free in PDF form, or as a download for the Sony Reader and Kindle e-reader and app, but Steinberg cautions that “software is not a substitute for parenting,” and that parents have to have an active commitment to keeping track of technology and how kids are consuming media.

“No matter what safeguards you put in place, determined kids can always find a way around them,” Steinberg adds. “Parents must give kids the tools to make the right choices. The ounce of prevention far outweighs the pound of cure.”

A recent Walker Communications study for Bonnier’s Parenting Group found that among even the youngest children, nearly 50% spend at minimum a few minutes a day using a smartphone, and nearly one-fifth are use one up to an hour daily. (Also interesting: Walker’s study for Bonnier released at the recent Dad 2.0 Summit at SXSW 2012).

There is growing agreement that how children interact with and learn about technology needs a “radical overhaul” beginning in primary school, writes John Naughton in The Guardian.

“If we don’t act now we will be short-changing our children…They will grow up as passive consumers of closed devices and services, leading lives that are increasingly circumscribed by technologies created by elites working for huge corporations such as Google, Facebook and the like. We will, in effect, be breeding generations of hamsters for the glittering wheels of cages built by Mark Zuckerberg and his kind.”

That’s a theme familiar to Sir Ken Robinson, who’s been lecturing (including at TED on a couple of occasions) on the changing education paradigm:

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