Kids playing video games
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Summer family fun with Common Sense Media

by Shannon Gaulding

Media has become the master of us all. As much as we love it, we struggle to catch our breath during the summer movie onslaught and to watch all of the new shows – which are now on cable, on broadcast, on Netflix, on Hulu, even on YouTube. Video games and new ‘gotta have em’ apps are released constantly. And forget about keeping up with Twitter, Tumblr and whatever the hell new awesome website mushroomed up since last night when I stumbled off to bed after catching up on Ray Donovan.

As a parent I find myself completely overwhelmed when my twelve-year-old – who has a shitload more time and greater computer literacy – asks to watch shows/movies/anime or wants to downloads apps or programs. I’m not sure what is safe for him (he’s in 7th grade and still a bit tender), what’s legal, what’s appropriate. Just doing the research on all this crap takes hours …. never mind making the emotional and moral decisions about what is ‘safe’.

Kids today spend an average of 8 hours a day in front of a screen. That’s a crazy amount of time. Put another way – kids spend more time with their screens than they do in school or with their families.

So thank God for Common Sense Media (CSM). A good friend turned me on to this great website years ago.

CSM, which is a 501(c)3 organization, is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology.

In layman’s terms: CSM rates movies, TV shows, Video Games, books and Apps. They are what the MPAA was meant to be. CSM breaks down all these forms of media, rating them by age, positive messaging, violence, sex, language, consumerism and drinking/smoking. Read a Common Sense Media review and you will know exactly what your child is going to experience.

And most importantly, CSM does not take any money from movie studios, TV networks, Video Game developers. Good reviews cannot be ‘bought’ by companies or corporations.

As well, CSM offers digital literacy programs which teach kids in a fun way about how to text without hurting anyone’s feelings, how to create a strong password, what information is safe to share online and what is not. CSM is also in schools and offers tools online that you may use as a parent. And they work. I did one of their programs with my kid last weekend called Digital Passport. He completed the whole program (20 minutes) and then wanted to do it again. And it was a program about texting, bullying, etc. Could have tasted like medicine, but it didn’t because CSM knows what they are doing: they are teaching kids in a way that is relevant, entertaining and pertinent to your kid. They have about one million free Apps including one called simply Kids Media App through the iTunes store that lets parents create personal profiles of their children and receive custom recommendations for those kids based on their age and interests.

For those of you in L.A., Common Sense Media will be holding their annual event, GameOn!, at Sony Pictures on September 29. I went last year, took the kids and everyone had a blast. They have game trucks offering games for a wide range of ages, celebrities, live entertainment, delicious eats by Wolfgang Puck, sports activities as well as a silent auction. Last year it sold out so if you are gonna go, sign up now!

As a parent, living with the ‘digital literacy generation gap’ is a challenge. So having CSM as a guide-post means everything … because mostly I have no flipping idea what my kids are talking about. My ten-year-old went to Modding Camp this summer, ferchristsake. What the hell is Modding??

Whoever has the answer to these and other technological-media-internet-intertube riddles, please clue me in the old fashioned way – with a flippin’ letter.

Shannon Gaulding

About Shannon Gaulding

Shannon Gaulding is an independent movie producer living in Los Angeles. She enjoys gardening (who has the time?), sleeping late (almost never), camping in the Sierra Nevadas (heaven on a stick) and eating Pterodactyl ribs home-smoked by her foxy, long-haired husband. She makes no mention of her willful children (male, ages 10 and 12) whom she forces to watch old movies which they pretend not to love - SEVEN SAMURAI (in b&w with subtitles!) and JEREMIAH JOHNSON - over and over again.

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