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Connecting with Your Kids Offline

The time your kids spend texting, Facebooking and sending IMs can come at a price. Plug in to your kids' social networking skills before they totally disconnect.
Family on computers
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Illustrations by Daniel Krall

It's a typical evening at Chez Tynan-Wood. I come home to find my wife curled up in an overstuffed chair with a glass of pinot grigio and her tablet PC, shopping, managing our online calendars or playing solitaire. I hear the burble of YouTube from my 14-year-old son's laptop. My tween is on her desktop PC, listening to iTunes while simultaneously texting three friends. I sit on the couch and break out my netbook to check e-mail and Twitter for the 97th time that day. In fact, the only members of the household not looking at a screen are the dogs, who frisk me with enthusiasm in the hope I've brought home Chinese food.

Are we digitally distracted? You bet. Less connected as a family than we could be? No doubt. And though as technology journalists my wife and I are probably more engulfed in gadgetry than your average suburban family, we share many of the same distractions as other plugged-in households.

Studies confirm our love for all things media. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Americans between 8 and 18 consume media nearly eight hours a day, usually while multitasking (say, watching YouTube and tweeting). And the time families spend together has dropped from 26 hours a week to under 18, according to University of Southern California's Center for the Digital Future. Meanwhile, you can hardly open a newspaper or visit a news site without seeing reports of how technology is driving us apart and sapping our ability to contemplate anything longer than a status update. Worse, say some experts, digital natives like my kids—who brandish the Internet and cell phones the way a ninja warrior wields a samurai sword—have the most to lose. Apparently Generation Text spends so much time typing and tapping they may have difficulty understanding body language, resolving conflicts or feeling compassion for their real-life, flesh-and-blood companions.

Is it really as bad as all that? Yes and no. Let me explain.