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The seven deadly sins of technology

A smart parent's guide to managing kids' technology.

By Christina Tynan-Wood

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The Internet

An Internet-connected computer is perhaps the greatest library-and-teacher combo ever invented. It can open doors to learning that were simply unavailable 20 years ago. It's also a pain for parents: Kids can slip into the World Wide Web’s seamy underbelly or get so engrossed that they forget there is a world beyond the screen. But don’t hold learning at bay because of such hassles and hazards.

You would teach your kid to cross the street to get to the library, right? Help him navigate the virtual world, and he will quickly become smarter than you can ever hope to be. First step: Explain the dangers and how to avoid them — and keep explaining them as they change. Next install parental controls just as you would put training wheels on a bike (consider Net Nanny or the Norton Online Family). Then dole out Internet time and access as your kid grows and becomes more competent.

A younger child should perhaps stop at an hour a day, while a teen could spend that much time on homework alone, let alone socializing and entertainment. A first grader might need to be shielded from 90% of what’s online, while an older teen needs only thin protection to keep from stumbling into the worst parts of the Web. The right parental controls can help you enforce your guidelines, limit abuse, and filter out nastiness while your kid learns to negotiate the world he's growing up in.

The pros: A vast, instant, unparalleled-in-the-history-of-humanity tool for learning, communication, and entertainment.

The cons: A vast, instant, unparalleled-in-the-history-of humanity on-ramp to Smutville. Even the innocent stuff is potentially addictive.

The lowdown: You can’t avoid the Internet (and why would you want to?). But you can make it safer for kids by offering instruction and installing training wheels till they can negotiate it on their own.

Christina Tynan-Wood has written for Better Homes and Gardens, Popular Science, PC World, PC Magazine, InfoWorld, and many others. She currently writes the "Family Tech" column in Family Circle and blogs at GeekGirlfriends.com.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/26/2010:
"I find the comment about these devices being 'inexpensive' curious - $200 and up (emphasis on the 'and up')is not 'inexpensive'...well, not if you dont get paid to write for a living I guess."
08/16/2010:
"you gotta be absolutly out of your mind lady.Im in highschool and play video games, text, social network and all that for hours of the day even in school. but i have sucesfully designed my own videogame graphics and am on the verge of being a programmer you know what that meant MO MONEY MO MONEY. I have straight A's and everything, your just another protective mom who doesnt really know anything at all about what you think your talking about. send me an email if you really wanna know soomething"
08/5/2010:
"You know, as a parent, I can understand half of this article, but once you started to talk about gaming and the Internet I completely broke down. Your discussion upon gaming clearly shows that you have no foundation of knowledge in the subject. There's tons of games which cross platforms, and so forth. You even categorized WOW as a console game when the reality is co the opposite. Speaking in terms of more modern games, RPGs in particular are probably the most powerful tool in terms of learning, at least as much as any given RTS. But I completely misunderstand why a bit of violence and shooting is off put. Kids need to play games and this is probably showing the author's age here. Why let a child watch a cartoon on television? Same idea. It's for the fun of the child and it's through engaging in more mature experiences that a child will grow. Furthermore, the worst is that you completely missed the most important point that you should have enforced: That parents should be actively involved in their child's interests, in this case gaming. Furthermore, there ARE strong parental locks built into these consoles as well as timers- namely on the Xbox 360 (not the wii). The worst point you made was in regards to the Internet. You should never put a block on it. All you're doing is showing a lack of trust between the two of you. And frankly, by their late teens, these kids SHOULD have seen some inappropriate things on the Internet. This whole article is so missing the point. All it's suggesting is that you keep your kid to be your little innocent baby when the reality is that they won't be, and shouldn't be. I think a better point would be this: Be a good parent. Don't let technology raise your child. Instead, become involved. Let them browse the Internet. Let them play games. Just do these things with them as well. "
07/23/2010:
"As a parent of a 14 and 11 year olds, I disagree with allowing a middle schooler have a cell phone. There are always exceptions and I will preface that children of single parents or divorced parents may be in these exceptional circumstances as well as some others. However middle schoolers should not be in a position where an adult is not present and therefore would always have this supervision and access to phone communication. I personally think making the transition from middle school to high school presents the situation where the teenager will be in more independent situations and should have access to communicating at all times when appropriate. In addition at the high school age, they can appreciate, understand, and learn more about the responsibilities associated with managing a cell phone. Thank you"
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