I am surprised at how many parents are appalled that my 10 and 12 year old each have their own computer and laptop. They start using computers in school in Pre-K. If I don’t teach them at home how to be safe and use technology responsibly, who will teach them?
While each of my pre-teen aged children has a computer in their room, they are by no means given free reign over the use of these devices. They are aware that they are not toys and that there are many dangers and problems that can result from computer usage.
Here are some examples of the harmful sides to kids using computers and what to do about it:
Internet Dangers- There are a variety of dangers on the Internet for pre-teens. These include pornographic and inappropriate content, violence and explicit content, child predators, bullying, misinformation, and more. However, there are many ways you can protect your child from the dangers of the Internet without banning or blocking the Internet completely. We use Open DNS on our home network with very strict settings. We also use parental controls from our Operating System to only allow certain websites to be accessed from our children’s computers (those which we approve of) and also to send us session logs via email each time our children use the Internet. So we get a complete list of where they went and when. But in addition to just restricting certain content, we talk to them about why and encourage them to be open to us if they want to visit a blocked site and why. For example, we don’t allow free reign on Youtube.com but if they request to see a specific video that maybe a friend told them about, we will review it first and if it is appropriate, we allow them to see it. Communication is the real key here. We try to explain why we don’t allow certain sites and try to teach them to make their own decisions about what is appropriate and what is not so that when they are faced with the situation away from home where the same restrictions are not in place, they will know how to make the appropriate choice.
Addiction Dangers- Another problem that comes with computer usage is addiction. This can be of the internet, video games played on the computer or just the computer itself. My children love to go to an educational website, First in Math. Here they play math games and solve math problems to earn points that also gain them ranking in their school and district. If I allowed it, my kids could be on there every waking minute. While it’s great that they love it since it is educational, it’s not healthy to spend too much time on the computer. So we openly discuss why as well as the dangers and we allow only a certain period of computer time per day, First in Math included. The children are allowed to earn extra time through chores and good behavior but this time can still only be redeemed in safe increments and after other responsibilities have been completed. Often parents say the word “addiction” when really the child’s behavior is just a result or boredom or a feeling of “nothing better to do”. It’s your job as the parent to help regulate this, which brings us to the next point.
Loss of Time/ Poor Time Management- Computer usage often leads to poor time management. Ask your average adult how often they have gotten caught up in a video game, a social networking site or even just reading intriguing news headlines and you will have a perfect understanding of how computers can contribute to loss of time. Kids have an even harder time with this so it’s up to parents to regulate the computer usage. One idea we had at my house is a computer log book. Each time the child uses the computer, they log the date and time, what they did and for how long. You can review this with your child later and discuss the importance of keeping track of time spent on the computer.
Lack of Social Interaction- When you adhere to the above point, computers do not have to create a lack of social interaction. Your children should still go out and play with friends, spend time with the family and other healthy social interaction. Again, as the parent, you need to set the guidelines for this. Don’t expect your pre-teen to just know when and how to do this. Make some time every day to spend time together as a family and also encourage and allow your child to spend safe, healthy time with approved friends. They can also use the computer to chat with friends or family but be sure it is done in a safe environment and that you are monitoring the conversations. This is not the same as spying on your child, especially at this young and impressionable age. If your child uses chat programs or email, it should be with an account that you create for them and monitor and where you closely monitor the friends who are added. Your child should come to you to add new friends or speak to people and do not allow free reign on social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. When used correctly, it can be a great tool, however. My kids use video chat to talk to their grandparents, aunt and other family members.
Lack of Physical Activity- Blaming computers for lack of physical activity in your pre-teen is a lame excuse. It’s your responsibility as the parent to monitor the time your child spends on electronic devices like the computer and time spent socializing face to face and getting physical activity. In times of the year when it gets dark early, allow your child to play with neighborhood friends before the sun sets and reserve computer time for later when it gets dark. You can also enroll your child in sports or other physical activities to help them get the exercise they need regularly. Remember too that you set the first example your child will see. If you sit on your butt in front of the computer every time they see you, then you can expect they will learn this to be acceptable behavior.
What works for one family does not work for all but here is how my family handles the issue of kids and computers. There are many great tools available for parents today to help them monitor their child’s use of the computer and Internet. Ultimately, it’s the time you spend with your child, how you communicate and the example that you set yourself that has the greatest impact on teaching kids safe use of the computer.
These tips may help you design a computer usage plan that works for your family. While you may not want to do everything that I do with my kids, sharing my plan will hopefully help other parents become aware of the benefits and the dangers of their children using computers and help you find resources to keep your kids safe.