February 19th, 2008
We parents recognize that the computer is a great tool and we want our children to use the computer.
But at the same time we are fearful for our children when they do use the computer!
My son is one of those that would have taken apart the radio and rebuilt a better one if he was born 40 years ago. Fortunately for him, the personal computer came into being when he was very young, so he naturally gravitated to working with computers. Also fortunate for my son was that my husband has a similar interest in computers, so we own several computers for him to play around with.
However, as a parent, my concerns were many. As much as I want my son to be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, any tool or toy can be abused. I have a heavy responsibility as a parent to guide my son in the proper use of the computer.
In teaching my children, I came up with 4 goals and suggestions on how to best meet them:
1. Encourage my children to expand their use of the computer for good stuff:
- Whenever your children ask you a question, research the answer together on the internet. This will teach your children to use the internet as a research tool, and encourage them to find answers for themselves.
- Find interesting websites on your children’s hobbies and show it to them. Send them good websites often. Make sure they are sites THEY would be interested in, not what YOU are interested in.
- Use the computer to plan trips together, to check the weather, to read alternative news sources, etc.
- When you run into problems with the computer (and who hasn’t!), try to find the solution together. This will encourage them to be more computer savvy.
2. Keep my children away from using the computer for any kind of bad stuff:
- Let your children know exactly what your expectations are and what type of activities and sites that are prohibited. This includes not only porn sites, but also illegal downloads, gambling, violent games, faking their age to sign into a site, etc. Be specific about the consequences if they violate your trust, even just one time. I told my son, “I know how important the computer is to you. But for your own good, I will only allow you to use it for the good that it will bring to your life. If you go on these bad sites or use it inappropriately, even for just one time, the computer is gone forever.” My son is now in college, and of course I can no longer monitor what he does. But I trust he has internalized the moral values I’ve taught him to carry him into his adulthood.
- The computer should be used in an open place in the house near where you spend most of your time, definitely not in the bedroom or den where you can not see them.
- If you can afford it, have more than one computer at home, side by side. Whenever my children are on the computer, I am right there on the other computer next to them. You can use that time to pay bills online, check your email, sort your digital pictures, etc.
- Make sure you have proper filters on your computers.
3. Limit the time on games and other just-for-fun sites:
- Use a timer to set a limit on the time your children can spend on the computer for fun stuff. Usually 30 minutes at one sitting with a total of 2 hours a day is a reasonable amount of time. This varies of course, depending on the age of your children, the amount of homework and other activities.
- Use fun computer time as a reward so your children do not use it any time they want. “You can do fun stuff on the computer after you finish all your homework.”
4. Promoting balance of computer time and other activities:
- Even if your child is a computer genius doing good stuff, it is important that he is involved in at least one type of extra-curricula activity to add another dimension to his life. The school band, sports, art class, music lesson, paid or volunteer work, student leadership, etc. gives them an interest with a life outside the computer.
- Provide family time several times a week when everyone must participate – game night, going on a picnic, attend a school activity, etc.
- Once every couple of weeks (or once a week if you can handle it), designate a “NO COMPUTER DAY”. I am guilty of gravitating to the computer without thinking of other forms of entertainment. A “NO COMPUTER DAY” forces everyone to think of other things to do once in a while.
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Photo by Tanya Ryno