4 Moms: Introducing kids to technology

I asked my children what they thought I should say about this topic and they chuckled.  “Introducing?  Really?  Is there that much to it?  Here’s a computer mouse.  Use it.  You’re old enough for an iPod now.  Have fun learning to use it.”

Most of these 4 Moms topics started out as reader questions, and I’m sorry I don’t have the full context of this one because I’m unsure exactly what the reader wanted to know about.   Teaching children to use the computer?  Deciding when to allow them supervised or unsupervised access to various pieces of electronics?  Establishing and changing boundaries as they get older?

When it comes to how to use a computer, our children seem to be born knowing how.  Maybe that’s because I tend to nurse my babies in front of the computer.  Don’t judge me.  Can you type 35 words/minute with one hand and use a mouse or touchpad completely ambidextrously?  If you’re a nursing mom, you probably can.

From the time they’re toddlers I allow them to have a few minutes every now and then on the computer.  We have very few games installed since computers are mainly for work in our house, but Paintbrush and Soup Toys are favorites.  Although they show up in our home every now and then, I strongly dislike quest-type games that deeply engross children and lead them to beg for just 20 more minutes.  I like games that challenge the mind, require creative thinking, and can be started and stopped with minimal notice and no emotional trauma.

When it comes to other types of technology, I think my children’s comments in the beginning of this post are right on.  A new iPod, Kindle, cell phone or digital camera may require some boundaries, but certainly no lessons.  They’ll figure that out quickly enough on their own.  If it takes some work, they’ll learn perseverance and critical thinking in the process.  If your kids give up and decide it’s too hard, you can mail your electronics to us because I’m sure I have a kid or 3 that will be happy to learn to use your device.

A bigger challenge for us is helping them maintain a healthy relationship with their devices once they’ve become personally involved.  Sometimes I feel more like a chaperone than a parent.  “You’ve spent enough time with your iPod today.  The two of you do not need to be alone right now.  It’s time to pay attention to the rest of us.”

Now we’re talking about boundaries.  That’s an entirely different subject, and a difficult one.  I think boundaries need to be based (at least in part) on an individual child’s judgment, maturity and ability to self-govern.  What is appropriate for your child may not be for mine, and vice versa.  For example, we have generally allowed our children to get iPods around 10-12yo, though their songs must be individually approved for the first couple of years and music collections are subject to inspection at any time without warning.

We like them to ask before using their iPods not because we want to control every moment of their day, but because we want to have an idea of just how heavily they use them.  Are they listening to music every now and then during a tedious job, or are they constantly immersing themselves in it?  This requirement is dropped when we see good choices and good habits consistently exercised.

We also like them use just one earbud when they are around other people, so that they aren’t tuning out the world around them.  This, I think, is just common courtesy.

Other electronics and forms of entertainment are similarly managed.  The history-loving child was allowed to read freely as long as she was not neglecting other duties.  while the children who showed a strong preference for fluff were required to get permission before reading so we could monitor just how much fluff they were stuffing between their ears.  The one who uses the cell phone as an alarm in the morning or for back-up while babysitting is allowed more freedom with it than the one who uses it to text friends when she should be doing school or chores.

How would you answer the question?  Do you introduce your children to technology?  How do you create boundaries, and when do you relax them?

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  1. Love your post. This reminds me of a related house rule we enacted quite some time ago. We’ve tried a number of little family rules and routines, but this one in particular really stuck and I like it – no screens on Sabbath.

    We were looking at new ways to make the “Sabbath” a special day. Not just a day to rest and relax (we’ve got that down), but other creative ways to make it holy and set apart. One of the things we came up with was to make this one day a week to be a day without “screens” of any kind. No computers, no movies, no texting, etc. We generally don’t do a lot of this anyway, we watch a little TV (mostly DVD’s from the library), the kids play the occasional computer game (Zoo Tycoon is a favorite, and even a little educational). But, we turn it all off for the whole day. We don’t have teens yet, but I presume and genuinely hope that we will be able to continue this rule through those years as well. As parents, we make the occasional brief exception to do things like connect with someone we want to meet for dinner or stuff like that. Doing this has caused us to discover alternative activities that have brought more interaction between us and overall has had very healthy results.

    On another note, we’re thinking about switching our internet filtering/monitoring from Covenant Eyes to BSecure because of their “whole home filtering” features that claim to cover all WiFi devices that enter your home without having to install software or anything. With the ever-expanding variety of these devices nowadays it just makes sense. I’d also like to recommend checking out InternetSafety101.org

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