I thought I loved Facebook. I thought I loved YouTube. I thought I loved NYTimes.com. But now I know the truth – I didn’t even know what love was until I tried all those websites without advertisements.

My new best friend is AdBlock, a quick and easy download that stops Gucci from telling me I need a $500 handbag (on NYTimes.com, of course) and film execs from telling my 8-year-old he needs to watch the violent, PG-13 film Wrath of the Titans. For years now I’ve seen ads on Facebook telling me how to look younger (darn Facebook for knowing my age) and weather.com telling me how I can fly to Vegas cheap and party cheap, too (they don’t know me as well). I’ve had ads for L.L.Bean kids’ snowsuits populate ad spaces on all the web pages I go to, simply because I’d been shopping around for snowsuits. It’s creepy. And it’s over.

Since I installed the free browser plug-in AdBlock, the ads are gone. Poof. At first, looking at my ad-less web pages, I had a moment of, “But wait, will I miss something?” But shortly after, the peace set in – the peace of my mind not having to play the role of ad-filter while clicking through web pages. Do I want a Gucci bag? No. Should I buy that wrinkle cream? No. Do I want to party cheap in Vegas? No. I don’t have to even consider those ad-driven ideas anymore. My brain is free. I can concentrate on the task at hand, whether it’s shopping for Gucci knockoffs (just kidding) or checking out a cool video of a Rube Goldberg machine with my son.

Give yourself some ad-free peace, too. I followed this step-by-step on the Yoursphere website: How to Easily Block Ads on Your Child’s Computer. But it works for parents’ computers, too!

Is that ad a little jarring? It was for me when I, with my son sitting next to me, went to YouTube recently only to be visually assaulted by whatever the heck this creature is supposed to be. All I wanted to do was show my son a very creative and happy video I’d bookmarked and knew he would like. But no. This splashed across the screen and immediately he began saying, “Click on it! Click on it!”

So much for my plan of sending him to bed with a beautiful audio and visual treat running through his brain. Now it was all about violence, pain and power.

I love that for almost everything my son can ask me about, I can say, “Let’s Google it.” What’s a luge? Let’s Google it. Why do rainbows exist? Let’s Google it. What’s the Tour de France? Let’s Google it. So much better than the Encyclopedia Britannica ever was; now we can see things in action thanks to video. If it happens, it’s on YouTube.

I also love all the creative, cool, awe-inspiring things people do and share online. Not so much the silly pet videos (OK, the talking bacon dog is funny), but amazing robot projects like the Sand Flea, compelling helmet cam videos of climbing Everest, and really talented kids like Emily Bear. If I wasn’t such a proponent of my son not spending too much time with screens, we could spend all day Googling amazing things all around the world and out into space.

Beyond the screen-time issue, the tons and tons of advertisements like Wrath of the Titans spoil the online experience. Today, NYTimes.com’s sinister ad for “The Killing” was hard to miss. Creepy ads are everywhere, and I truly think that every quick, seemingly innocuous exposure desensitizes kids (and adults) in ways we don’t even realize. You can’t “unsee” something. That Wrath of the Titans monster will live forever in your mind. Sorry.

So, all that said, I’m on a mission to tighten my online parental-controls belt. I’ve been experimenting with simple ways to stop unwanted ads, then I plan to tackle my browser settings and the like. Stay turned for my next post where I hope to have found some good solutions to report!

And I’d love to hear from you all – what solutions have you found to enjoy the great things an online world offers and filter out the stuff you just don’t want to know about? Please share your ideas in comments. Thanks!

And if you need to clear your head of the fire breathing demon image above, check out this fun, little video I was trying to show my son. It’s worth the short trip!

Tell me I’m not the only parent who’s done this:

I pry the iPad from my son’s tapping, swiping, slave-to-the-screen fingers and send him off to do something more “healthy” than Angry Birds or Trucks and Skulls. Then I grab up my Android and start tapping and swiping, a slave to my own tiny screen of email, texts, and Facebook. Oh, the irony.

And it doesn’t go unnoticed by my son. He knows that just as surely as the coffee starts brewing at 6:15 a.m. and the dog gets fed by 6:45 a.m., the desktop, laptop and smartphones get powered up and “checked” with the sunrise, too. But, I tell him, it’s because of mommy’s and daddy’s work. We just need to “check” that nobody needed us, you know, in the middle of the night. Huh?

That first quick check of email did have to do with work, but oh look, it’s my move on Words With Friends. And someone commented on the photo I posted yesterday on Facebook – better take a look at that. And Kaitlin ousted me as mayor of the grad lab, so of course I need to text her something funny.

Half an hour later and I’m just a big ol’ hypocrite. How can I expect my 8-year-old to use restraint when it comes to gadgets when I can’t?

And where does this lack of self-control come from? According to WebMD: “We already know that the Internet and certain forms of computer use are addictive,” says David Greenfield, PhD, a West Hartford, Connecticut, based psychologist and author of Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyberfreaks, and Those Who Love Them. “And while we’re not seeing actual PDA addictions now, the potential is certainly there.” Computer technologies can be addictive because they’re “psychoactive”; they alter mood and often trigger enjoyable feelings. Email, in particular, gives us satisfaction due to what psychologists call “variable ratio reinforcement.” That is, we never know when we’ll get a satisfying email, so we keep checking, over and over again. “It’s like slot machines,” Greenfield says. “We’re seeking that pleasurable hit.”

(Yes, I just used internet sources to blog about addiction to technology. Beyond ironic, I know.)

Just like my son wants to try one more time for the “pleasurable hit” of making the next level on Angry Birds, I love checking all my social media one more time before bed just in case there’s a “pleasurable hit” in my inbox. Repeated quick-hit satisfaction is not wiring the truly happy child’s brain, and could well be setting him up for a lifetime of frustration when life doesn’t deal out dopamine quite so easily.

In the face of technology that is only going to become more and more addictive, what is more important: my need for that digital “pleasure hit” or my need for my son to see me modeling healthy restraint toward digital crack? I think it’s time to power down for the day. Anyone want to join me for a real game of Scrabble? No phones allowed!

I like expert advice. If I don’t know how to do something, rather than blunder along trying to figure it out, I turn to someone who’s smart on the topic. When it comes to parenting, my advice-seeking started with the pregnancy how-to What to Expect When You’re Expecting, then moved to Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, and then on to Montessori Today.

Now I’ve found a great guide for the latest challenge my family faces: video games. Technology and high-tech parenting expert Scott Steinberg’s The Modern Parent’s Guide to Kids and Video Games is now available as a free download and offers a lot of practical parenting solutions to our screen-saturated world. With chapters such as “Common Concerns about Video Games,” “Setting Ground Rules,” and “Guidelines for Healthy Gaming,” and a myriad appendix topics such as “How to Setup and Use Parental Controls” and “Video Game Glossary,” this guide gives parents a solid foundation to navigate the video game world with their kids.

To be sure, this is not the guide for parents who plan to keep video games away from their kids. The first few chapters are geared toward convincing parents that kids actually need video games in their lives: “The great thing about video games nowadays is that kids are learning new skills without even knowing it,” Steinberg writes. “Experts have seen increases in lateral and critical thinking, problem solving and dynamic decision making amongst players, not to mention obvious improvements in hand-eye coordination. In fact, much of what kids get out of games maps pretty closely with the skill sets required of 21st century job seekers.”

Get it? No video games now equals no job later, or so we’re told in this guide.

Nevertheless, while Steinberg takes a more pro-video game stance than I’m able to, I applaud a main message in his guide: If you are going to let your children play video games, play with them.

“Ultimately, expert consensus suggests that the choice of whether games can be beneficial or detrimental to kids comes down to fundamental playing habits, exposure to age-appropriate content and, most vitally, active parental involvement and awareness,” Steinberg writes.

The Modern Parent’s Guide to Kids and Video Games will help parents get up-to-speed with the technology, see things from their kids’ points of view, and hopefully make peace with parenting’s latest challenge.

For more about parenting in the digital age from the guide’s author, check out this Mashable.com Q&A with Scott Steinberg.

If you are a parent, you probably remember reading the oh-so-sleepy children’s classic Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. In it a child bunny says goodnight to everything: Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon. Goodnight light, and the red balloon … While Goodnight Moon did a beautiful job capturing the essence of a peaceful 1947 house, it was time for a 21st Century update. Now parents can lull their children to sleep with Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd (get it?)

“Goodnight iPad. Goodnight Doom. Goodnight bird launching over the moon. Goodnight Nooks and digital books …” I mean, who even notices the moon anymore with the glow of gadgets blinding us at night?

This book, subtitled “a parody for the next generation,” does a funny job reminding us of just how much times have changed. Gone are the days when the most exciting thing in a room could be “two little kittens and a pair of mittens.” Today’s house is plugged-in 24/7, and the bunnies in this book have clearly been to Best Buy more than a few times. They don’t just have an iPad to turn off, but also computers, giant TVs, Nooks, and BlackBerries. My favorite touch that David Milgrim (the actual author) includes in the illustrations is a television set with a video of a fire in a fireplace on the screen in front of the actual, empty fireplace. Sure drives home how absurdly hooked on our virtual lives we all are!

The room is full of beeps and dings and tap-tap-tapping, until the old woman bunny (aka Mom) has had enough. To the moans and protests of the little bunnies (and even the Daddy bunny) she pries every last tech toy out of their hands and throws them out the window. “Goodnight remotes and Netflix streams, Androids, apps, and glowing screens.” You can just feel the calm settle over the house, and finally everyone nods off. “Goodnight gadgets everywhere.”

Goodnight iPad offers an excellent opportunity to laugh at our screen-obsessed selves while it gently reminds us that, at the end of the day, everyone needs to power off and recharge.

And just so you don’t actually have to leave your computer, iPad or smartphone to read Goodnight iPad, here it is for your screen-viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Between the iPad, the smartphone, the NintendoDS and the television, there are many screens competing for your children’s attention. If you’re like me, you’ve tried lots of tactics to limit screen time – setting a timer, ordering “not on weekdays” or (when you’re really fed up) an all-encompassing ban on electronic gadgets. It’s a struggle, especially as parents grapple with the marketing campaigns touting the “educational benefits” of television, computer games and apps. But honestly, we all know the best after school play for a child is running, jumping, splashing, digging, or any full body activity that tires out more of the body than the thumbs or index fingers.

So, stay strong, parents. Yes, even educational screen time needs to be limited. No, you don’t have to be the meanest parent ever to enforce those limits. Here are some ideas to help set limits on technology while getting the most benefit from the screen time you do allow:

  • Don’t use the TV or computer games as babysitters. Spend time with your child while he or she watches or plays so you make it a social affair. This will give you lots to talk about (and bond over) at the dinner table, and will indoctrinate your child to the idea that most entertainment is meant to be social.
  • If it isn’t the right time for technology, don’t get caught off guard. Be prepared to divert the “I want to play on the iPad!” energy. Have a stash of alternative, distracting, enriching play ideas at the ready – a new comic book, a magnifying glass, cool kitchen experiments, anything that will catch the child off guard and move her to a more productive place. Don’t provide a new toy every time your child wants to get on PBS.org, but have alternative activities at the ready.
  • Give your child an opportunity to experience technology from a creative viewpoint. A cheap digital camera (or the old one you wore out taking all those darling baby pictures that first year!) is a great opportunity to let little ones learn to create with technology, not just passively interact.
  • Keep the TV and computer in the family room or another room where they are easily monitored by adults. Do not allow either in the child’s bedroom.
  • It’s important for kids to see their parents be able to disengage from media, so make the dining table a tech-free zone – no TV, iPads, smartphones, iPods, etc. This means guests, too (warn them beforehand).
  • Above all, when it is time for tech, interact with your child. Model good sportsmanship, self-control and self-discipline. Show your child that you don’t always have to get to the next level right now or watch the next episode right now. Give them the emotional tools to use good judgment with media and technology in the future.

Picture the family photos you hang on your walls for everyone to see. Chances are they are of smiling, happy faces representing the best of what your family is (or, on a bad day, strives to be). Would you ever display on the fireplace mantel a photo of your child and anything to do with bodily functions? No. How about your overweight child with a mouthful of cake? Probably not. Or your child crying because he’s afraid of going down the slide at the playground? Again, no.

We don’t permanently show unflattering photos of our kids at home, so why is it that so many parents have no problem posting their kids’ embarrassing moments online for the whole world to see? Chances are if you’re on Facebook or YouTube, you’ve had a few friends post embarrassing photos or video clips of their children. Maybe the child is having a meltdown, or in the yard running around naked, or wearing a Cinderella costume for Halloween (even though he’s a boy). While the antics of small children may seem funny and harmless now, the fact is that five years from now it will be embarrassing for the child; and 10 years from now it will open the child up to teasing and ridicule.

More and more, human resources professionals are searching through job candidates’ online footprints when making hiring decisions. Do you really want a potential employer to see your future 18-year-old as a 4-year-old in her princess underwear doing the potty dance? And, as it’s commonplace now for people to Google potential romantic interests, is it fair for your child to have to explain those awkward photos on the first date? Save the embarrassing stuff for at least the fifth date! Or what if your child becomes a politician or celebrity? Then people will be paid to dig up those humiliating moments.

But perhaps you think that because your blog is private or because only “friends” on Facebook can view your photos or because no name is attached to them there is nothing to worry about. Not true. Once you post the silly photo or video, all it takes is one person to share it on her public Facebook wall and add a comment using your child’s name. Then poof, anonymity is gone. And privacy online is decaying fast. With face-recognition technology advancing quickly and search engines tracking you and your family, 10 years from now when your child is launching into the real world there will be no privacy.

As parents, let’s respect our children and the online legacy we are laying down for them while they are young. Display their triumphs and strengths, not their childhood indiscretions, for all the future to see.

Have you already posted embarrassing photos of your child online? Maybe this wikiHow tutorial can help: How to Apologize to Your Child for Putting Embarrassing Pictures of Him/Her Online.

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