A home computer can be a great tool for helping your child learn many skills.
However, computer use by young children is very controversial, and even older children and teens will need your guidance in using this powerful tool in appropriate ways. You can help your family make better use of your home computer by doing the following:
- Make a plan for using the computer. Schedule computer times and Web site choices in advance, just as you would other activities.
- Set time limits. Use a timer to limit your child's total screen time. This includes time watching TV and videotapes, playing video and computer games and surfing the Internet. When the timer goes off, your child's time is up, no exceptions. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours of quality TV and videos a day for older children and no screen time for children younger than 2.
- Set family guidelines for appropriate content. Help children and teens choose
Web sites and video games that are appropriate for their ages and your family's interests. Check the content ratings and parental advisories. Use these ratings to decide whether the Web site or game is suitable for your child.
- Be clear and consistent with your family's rules. If you do not approve of your child's choice, explain why and help to choose something more appropriate.
- Put your family's computer, video player and TV in a common area where you can see your child's activities.
- Whenever possible, use the computer with your child and talk about what he or she sees, hears and reads. You can help him or her learn to question and challenge the meaning of messages.
- Discuss how the messages your child sees compare with your family's values.
- Look for side effects of inappropriate computer use. Some signs of trouble
- Poor school performance.
- Hitting or pushing others.
- Aggressively talking back to adults.
- Frequent nightmares.
- Increased eating of unhealthy foods.
- Smoking, drinking or drug use.
Children and teens are spending more time on the Internet than ever before. The World Wide Web can put information at your child's fingertips, help with homework, improve computer skills and provide entertainment. The Internet also can lead children to inappropriate material and dangerous situations.
Even if you don't have a computer in your home, your child will be exposed to the Internet somewhere - at school, the public library or a friend's house. While these places may have guidelines and procedures to protect children, it is important to talk to your child about the Internet and to set rules of your own. Your child needs your guidance when using this tool and as he or she continues to explore its resources.
Here are a number of tips to keep your child's Internet experience safe, educational and fun:
- Make sure your child understands what types of Web sites you consider appropriate and what categories of sites are off limits. Establish clear rules, post them near the computer and enforce them.
- Set limits on the amount of time your child can spend online each day or week. Do not let surfing the Internet take the place of homework, playing with friends or other activities. Use an alarm clock or timer to keep your child from losing track of time while using the computer.
- Participate in your child's online time. Stay involved and monitor what your child is doing. Keep your home computer in a common area such as the kitchen or family room. If your child has a computer in his or her bedroom, make sure the door to the room stays open at all times.
- Polish your own computer skills. If you are not comfortable using a computer or the Internet, consider taking a class or doing some reading. Your child will need your help to use this resource effectively. It is important for you to understand what your child is doing (and what he or she is capable of doing).
- Consider buying filtering software that prevents your child from visiting inappropriate sites and helps you monitor the files he or she downloads.
Keep in mind that even the best filter may accidentally give your child access to materials you don't approve of, and many children are smart enough to find ways around these blocks.
- Ask your child about how he or she uses computers outside your home and talk about the kinds of information online. Encourage your child to discuss anything that makes him or her feel uncomfortable.
- Talk to your son or daughter about how easy it is for people to misrepresent themselves on the Internet. Explain that strangers in chat rooms should be treated with the same caution as strangers on the street. Teach your child not to open e-mail from someone he or she doesn't know.
- Tell your child never to arrange to meet in person anyone he or she has met online. Get to know your child's online friends just as you would his or her other friends. Ask the same kinds of questions you ask before your child visits friends. Find out where he or she is going online and with whom.
- Explain why your child never should provide any personal information to someone on the Internet. This includes name, address, phone number, age, school, school location, names of friends, credit card numbers, passwords and vacation plans. Your child should not exchange pictures online.
- Decide whether you want your child to participate in unmoderated chat rooms where he or she may be exposed to bad language and personal questions. In moderated chat rooms designed for children, inappropriate messages are edited.
- Never give your child your credit card for online purchases. If you want to allow your child to buy items on the Internet, insist on being involved in all orders.
- Discuss unsolicited commercial e-mail, called spam, with your child. These offers often are scams. Teach your child to delete these messages. If your child is placed on an unwanted e-mail distribution list, show him or her how to be removed.
- Ask about the Internet use policy at your local library and at your child's school. If your child's friends have computers at home, talk to their parents to determine whether their rules and monitoring practices are consistent with your own.