Friday, May 11, 2012

Children and Computers: When is the Right Time?

Today's guest blogger addresses a question that my husband and I have had to answer for our children. And we've also had reevaluate our decision every few years, as the children get older.

A perplexing problem that previous generations of parents have not really had to deal with is what age to introduce their children to computers. And not just computers; mobile phones and tablet devices also come into the digital picture. As with so many aspects to parenting, there is no ‘right’ age. It’s up to parents to decide for themselves when they are comfortable with their kids navigating their PCs.

There are two distinct schools of thought that parents may want to consider: early introduction sets children up for success in modern life; early introduction interferes with normal childhood development.

For example, toddlers are far better off running around, developing their motor skills and social and verbal abilities than spending time with a mouse and keyboard. As these are critical learning years they need to develop a good base that will shape the rest of their lives.

As a rule of thumb, three years old is about the youngest your child should be before you sit her down for any serious computer time. Although, by this stage, many children have mastered their parents mobile phones and have some indirect experience surfing the net by sitting on their parents’ laps.

3-4 Years Old strongly recommends that if you’re going to introduce your child to computers at this stage that you do so at levels that are developmentally appropriate. Children this young use computers differently than older children and so your approach has to be tailored to their needs. Don’t expect them to carry out proper tasks as they will probably be fascinated by the clicking ability of the mouse and the results that this brings.

Once they’ve got over the novelty, you can start introducing activities that require them to click to bring about a solution. Remember those memory card games you used to play as a kid? Similar computer programmes are available that help children recognise shapes and colours and which improve memory and response times.

Many preschools already have computer learning centres where children can start using computers in a controlled environment. This obviously relieves parents of the burden of finding appropriate activities. It also provides some bonding time as children can show off the skills they learnt during the day.

5-6 Years Old
By the ages of five and six years old, children should be able to start using specially designed children’s software, which contains learning programmes and games that will help develop their language and number skills and also help them with problem solving. As children get older, their use of computers gets more sophisticated.

Remember that you will have to monitor your child’s computer time for a quite a while, especially when they start to go online.

Sandy Cosser writes on behalf of Now Learning, which promotes online learning in Australia, including IT courses and accounting diplomas.

Serfronya here.
Ultimately, my husband and I decided that during the elementary years we would pretty much restrict the computer to free online educational games a few times a week after the children completed all of their school work. Once they hit middle school we utilize some online courses, such as typing. And now that my oldest is in high school, half of his classes are free online video courses.

As far as the internet and other devices that connect to it, we made the decision that it is not necessary for children to be online unsupervised. Our teenager does not own a cell phone, tablet computer or anything else that he can carry and use to access the internet when no one is around. When he needs to do research on a topic or watch one of his video courses, I sit in the same room with him while he is on the computer. And I plan on doing the same when my three younger children get older.

Like Sandy stated in the article, this is a judgement call that is for each individual family to make.

No comments: