Like many parents with young children, I wondered how early and how often my young daughter should be on the computer. The advice experts’ offer was both surprising and reassuring.
1) It’s almost never too early. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no computer usage before age two, by age three many children are active on the computer.
2) Be first to introduce your child to the computer. Today preschools are using computers, so start positioning yourself early on as the authority over computer usage in your home. Kids also encounter computers during playdates in friends’ homes. Every family has their own rules, so make sure your child understands your rules. You may, for example, want to tell your young children they’re allowed to play on a computer only if a grownup is in the same room.
3) Teachable moments. Use your computer to teach children boundaries. Setting time limits and making rules like always wash hands first and take turns help your children to learn to follow rules in any context, not just in regards to computers.
4) Together time. Placing your computer in a shared space like the family room establishes an early pattern of parental authority and allows you to monitor your children’s online activities. When your kids are young, interact with them by playing online games and visiting some of the many wonderful educational sites.
With older children, it’s important to regularly discuss the websites they’re visiting. Ask them to share their favorite ones with you. Discuss the accuracy of online information sources. Find common interests you can pursue together online. Be sure to make your full access to their accounts a condition of their joining social networks.
5) Become more tech savvy than your kids. If you’re not already computer literate, ask a friend to teach you. Or maybe there’s a teenager in your neighborhood who you could hire to tutor you. You can also find online tutorials. Learn how to use Facebook or MySpace before your kids do, so when they join these social networks, you can monitor their online social activities.
6) Online social networking starts earlier than you think. Those cuddly critters with codes attached? They’re your child’s first foray into online social networking. Some social networking sites geared to children—Webkinz, for example—don’t reveal names, emails or other personal information but others may not have as many safeguards. Get familiar with children’s sites before introducing them to your child.
7) Bullies and predators. The same guidelines that apply to protecting your children from bullies and predators in real life apply to cyberspace. Not surprisingly, online bullying may be the more common threat. Taking precautions like following your children’s online social networking and keeping in touch with the parents of your children’s friends will help keep you aware of potentially harmful situations.
By Frances Archer