Computers, Internet and children (Basic guidelines)

Parentree-editors 2008-11-27 12:49:09

Computers and the Internet are changing the way the world does things and are pervasive these days. Here is a guide that will help Indian parents tap the power of the computers and the net for making learning fun for your children. You will be better able to blend time-tested methods of learning with 21st century tools like the net and computers effectively and safely for your child’s holistic development.

We have discussed some basic ideas and guidelines here. Check out our age-by-age guides for more specifics.

In order to use computers and the Internet effectively, it is important to tap the power or the strengths of the Internet and mitigate the downsides.

Advantages of the Internet and computers

  • There is lots of wonderful educational information at your fingertips. Imagine the goodies - Wikipedia, Google, Yahoo, National Geographic etc., Enyclopedias, Newspapers of India and the world at your fingertips.
  • The fact that the web is interactive and has audio, video makes learning become more alive, real and interesting. It is Even better than TV because TV is passive and the net is interactivee
  • Fast, free and from everywhere! Even from remote areas. Most web sites are free. Some computer games and software might cost money.

Disadvantages

  • There is too much invalidated information as well. Here is where parents can help select the right websites and computer media for the children.
  • It can cause untimely and undesirable exposure to undesirable elements like pornography, violent games, bad company, consumerism, junk food etc., if proper steps are not taken through parental control software and parental guidance.
  • Excessive use of computers and the Internet may come at the expense of other activities like sports and other physical play, social interaction, academics and other extracurricular activities that are very important for the overall development of children. For example, staring at the computer monitor for a long time is not good for  young eyes and they need to play outside in the fresh air as well.

Most schools these days have computer education for children and you do not have to worry about their picking up computer skills as such. Focus on how you can use the computer and the net to make learning fun, for their project research and reinforcing and augmenting concepts that they learn in school.

Great in small and careful doses

  • The computer and the Internet are a means to an end and not as an end by themselves. Children should use these as a medium for learning and fun but do not overdo it.
  • Make sure that the computers and the Internet are not replacing key activities like studies, social contact, sports, extracurricular activities etc.,
  • Computers and the net can be a fun and novel medium for learning. But make sure that you use computers and the net as a supplement to the main traditional methods of learning.
    • For example, the best learning tools for young children should be tactile and multi-sensory and they learn best by doing. Older children too will benefit from discussing topics with you or their friends instead of just checking out Wikipedia for facts. 
    • Use the net and the computers carefully and consciously with your children.  Avoid using the net or computer games casually as a babysitter for your young children.
    • Do not stop going to libraries, bookstores and spending time chatting and discussing with your children.

Parental guidance

  • The part of a child’s brain that makes humans control their desires and habits is not fully developed until they reach 18 or 20 years. Also, children are very sensitive to different influences in their formative years. So do not feel like you are being a control-freak when you set limits and monitor your school-going child’s use of computers.
  • Ensure that right from the beginning you set some limits (in their school years) in a gentle and firm manner. Have a time limit and enforce the time limit.
    • Remember that the time limit will change with the age of the child. Involve the child and let them agree with the limits.
    • Sitting in front of the computer for too long is bad for the eyes and the back so make sure that you encourage your older kids to take breaks. Another way could be to allot 15-30 minute slots at a time (depending on the age).
    • Keep computer and Internet use later in the day when they are tired. Keep the fresh part of the day for more physical and mental activities.
    • If there are 2 or more kids vying for the same computer, make sure that you have them take turns and give them short installments. Using a timer might help and make it clear and loud that their time is up.
    • Consider the time spent watching TV, playing video games as well. You could monitor the overall time spent on all these different media and set one overall time limit. For example, 30 minutes of either TV or video games or computer games in a day. But remember that computer games are more interactive and score over TV since TV is a passive medium.
  • An effective way to monitor your child’s computer use is to have a computer in a central public location of the house and NOT in their room. If the computer is in the study and you are not confident, then perhaps you can even take your work in the study.

As children grow...

  • Remember that the kind of computer activity - learning games, web browsing, time limits etc. - is different for different ages. As the children get older and start browsing the web more freely, there are more chances that might get exposed to the shady side of the internet- - sex and violence and also unsafe environments. You will need to ensure parental control software is in place for your children.
  • What is parental control software?
    • it basically creates a protective wall around your computer. As children grow and use the Internet freely, ensure that you have parental control software on the computer they will use.
    • Parental control software can:
      • Block undesirable websites.
      • Allow certain websites, filter search.
      • Set and monitor time limits.
      • Some software will even create activity reports of their web usage.
      • You can create custom categories that are safe for your children.
    • Windows Vista and Apple computers have parental controls built into them. Netnanny is a good example of parental control software that is available in India (in leading computer shops and some bookstores) and can be installed easily.
    • You can set these controls remotely as well (for example, allow access for a specific website).
    • The advantage is that even when you are not present, you will feel secure that your child is using the net safely. Instead of you being paranoid and controlling, let the software do the work for you.
  • As your children get older, they will need more freedom and privacy, and you will need to relax your rules and limits. Encourage your child to be open and honest with you. So, set and enforce limits but also create an environment where the child feels secure and trusted. Your children will avoid hiding things form you and keep you better updated. You will reap the benefits of this when your children are in college and you can no longer be at their shoulders.

Keeping up...

  • Check with other parents about websites and computer software that they find fun and useful. Of course, do not get carried away and succumb to peer pressure unnecessarily and temper with your personal values and attitude.
  • Typically, taking the middle path in computer and net use is effective. You will meet different families with different attitudes about net usage for their children. Some may have young kids who are cool whizzes on gaming and social networking sites and some parents who do not even keep the TV at home and avoid computers for their children. There is no right or wrong answer typically. You need to find your special balance and find out what works best for your child and your family.

They learn a lot from you...

  • When your kids start using the computer, you will be surprised how much they already know, assuming that you use a computer at home. They learn a lot watching you. After all they are 21st century children.
  • Be a good role model. Now if your children see you plugging away your laptop the whole day at the cost of other activities, then the children will think that is the cool thing to do.
  • Always share interesting stuff on the net with kids—both young and old. They will learn a lot from you. As they get older, sharing interesting stuff  can help you in having an open and fun relationship with your child.

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