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Children & Computers: how much and when?

In our household, the adults are often on the computers: working, updating this website, paying bills, ordering groceries, coordinating playdates, researching dance classes, signing up for sports teams. So much of our day-to-day lives are facilitated by the use of the computer.  So, when asked "Mom, can I get on the computer?" and I respond with "NO", I am not surprised to be met with conflict: "Why?  You're always on the computer..."

My eldest daughter is nine going on ten.  She recently received an evite for a classmate's birthday party.  Had I not happened to let her get onto the computer on a random Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, we would have not known about the party, as there were no paper invitations sent home and parents didn't get emails.  It made me wonder: is it the norm now that all ten-year olds have email addresses that they check semi-regularly?

We set up an email address for our eldest maybe when she was 8.  She checked it sporadically since then. More recently, though, with lots of her fifth grade friends graduating and heading to middle schools, she's been more active on the email.  She also has been learning to use the internet, with increasing regularity, at school, for "research".  She knows how to use Google and Wikipedia.  And, apparently, students are not allowed to copy from Wikipedia verbatim to complete homework assignments.

I am curious how you have handled computer usage in your household.  It seems that computer usage is a necessity, and I feel tasked with helping my children to learn to use the tool responsibly, instead of spending mindless hours "surfing" the web for nothing in particular.  How do you guide them to use the computer purposefully, perhaps to do some research, to look up the weather for the week, to check email (how often?), to skype with out-of-town family members?  What are reasonable time limits for usage for different age groups - preschoolers (if at all?), early elementary children, middle schoolers, high schoolers?  I would especially love to hear from those more seasoned mamas (salty mamas, hehheh), who have been through this transition from no- to some-/lots- of computer time.  What is your new balance with computer time for the kids?

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Our kids' level of computer usage is the norm in our circle, but way, way below the norm in general.

My boys are 7 and 10. They earn screen time during the week via the Marble Jar Method which they can "spend" on the weekends (certain tasks/behaviors = a marble in the jar. Each marble is worth 10 minutes of screen time - be it games, a Pink Panther cartoon on Hulu or whatever). Theoretically, they could earn over an hour each week, but they never do.

Anyway, we instituted this not only as motivation for certain behaviors but in order for them to have a set time to play on the computer. Because it's not something we want them doing all the time. We're pretty lo-tech when it comes to media - and want to keep them that way for as long as possible, too. Because at this age, we don't see any reason for it to be otherwise.

I completely agree that they will need to acquire those skills. But the thing is, both my husband and I acquired them as adults, in very little time, as the internet came along. It wasn't hard to do. And so far, computer usage really hasn't been a necessity - certainly not school-wise. It isn't something I really want them to be focusing on right now. My older son doesn't have an email account. He knows how google works and has used it to look for stuff ("how do you attach an arrowhead to an arrow?") He goes to computer lab at school. And that's fine for now. For now I'm happy for computers to be about a half hour or so on the weekend playing Marble Madness or this bizarre game with a penguin skiier that was definitely invented by someone on acid...but I digress.

My child is 6. His friends are 6 and 7. None of them have email. There computer time is at school. We do not have computer time at home yet....it will come with home work etc.

I have an almost 10 year old, he loves the computer, his DS & the WII. I view them all the same. He gets an hour a day of screen time and can use half an hour more if he reads over his daily allotment. He does have a computer in his room, but it is monitored in that he has to ask and doors are always open.

I feel like he gains from getting to use his techie devices, but he isn't obsessed. He loves reading and sports as much as the screen time.
Summer brings less inside time in general than the cloudy days.
I think that teaching moderation helps to breed a well rounded child.

I've been interestedly waiting to hear what the comments are on this thread. It's hard for me to stop once I get started, but I feel very strongly about it.

Children's brains and specifically neural pathways are still forming at rates that we can't relate to as adults. The point isn't that, as I often here, "kids don't need to learn ALL the time," it's that kids ARE learning all the time. So, I ask myself, do I want a screen feed (be it TV, movies, or computer) shaping how my child's brain works/thinks, or do I want the complicated, unpredictable, creative, integrated, changing natural world to shape it? Generally anything coming from a screen is someone else's limited vision, and watching or using has a passive quality and limits one to what is available by the screen. Even writing a letter instead of an email involves more complicated thought (motor coordination and watching one's own handrwriting and what it expresses) and allows for more personal creativity (pictures, variety in writing style).

Pardon me for saying this, but a monkey can be taught to use a computer, so I don't think it's necessary to introduce it any too early. I believe it stifles creative thought at a development stage at which it is crucial to develop it (all of childhood). Computers should be used as tools, and understood that they are even virtual tools that involve less complicated thought processes than our manual tools.

I'm waiting for a book regarding this by Jane Healy. I feel that all the screen time we all get in our lives is stifling all of us and limiting our lives and affecting our happiness. I recently read a book by Jill Stamm which explains really well how TV/Video watching inhibits children's ability to integrate their senses as they map the world into their brain. E.g. objects on TV don't have a smell, weight, the noise is wrong and flat (you can tell the difference between a piano playing in room and a radio playing piano music, but that is something we learn as babies through this process), temperature, texture, not to mention there is no 360 degree context for what's happening.

OK gotta stop myself now.

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