Sunday, January 29, 2012

Computer in the bedroom: have the rules changed?

I have been thinking a lot recently about how much the game has changed in terms of kids and their use of technology, but the rules for parents have not caught up yet with the game.

When my daughter was first starting school, the mainstream advice for parents was to keep the family computer in a public place in the house. Don’t let your child go into chat rooms because there may be sexual predators. Keep screen time limited to 1-2 hours. Don’t give out private information. Don’t email something that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face. Possibly set up some kind of nanny control over what websites your child can view.

In many ways, those rules are out of date and no longer provide helpful guidance to parents. My daughter received a 4th generation Ipod touch for her 11th birthday. This essentially means that she has a computer, phone, television etc. in her room, and it would be foolish of me to think otherwise. At this point, she innocently uses it to “facetime” with her friends, sends iMessages repeatedly, and chats with others- -often all at the same time. She is not allowed on Facebook or any other social network. She is a good kid with good grades and no record of participating in on-line bullying, but I want to be aware enough to make sure she doesn’t go astray.

As I see it, there are several issues that we as parents, and educators, need to think about:

  • The constant distraction our kids are faced with while trying to do homework or read a book
  • The time they spend chatting instead of actually talking to friends and family
  • The propensity to write things that they would never actually say to someone’s face
  • The gossip and hurtful nature chatting can take on- it’s so easy to chat about other people
  • Cyber bullying
Yes, sharing private information, sexual predators, screen time over physical exercise are still issues too, but we would be foolish to think that these are the primary concerns today. There was an article in the Seattle Times yesterday by Julie Weed, “Ways for parents to ease tussle with teens over tech use.” This is the only article I found dealing with the rapidly changing nature of teens and technology, and contains a suggestion for setting new ground rules for parents.
The author says:
Today's parents may feel like technology is not just encroaching on, but subsuming, their family time. They may also get the uneasy feeling that their teens could be doing things online that could land them in trouble… As scientists and parents know, self-control is not fully developed in teen brains, so it can be hard for them to voluntarily turn off a video game or log out of Facebook. The average 8- to 18-year-old spends more than 7 ½ hours each day using entertainment media, according to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study.
She provides a list of 5 rules for parents. I’m not sure that I agree with her rules completely, but at least there is someone out there rethinking the rules.

After much consideration, I have come to the conclusion that my daughter should be allowed to have her ipod in her room. I don’t think the old advice of keeping a computer in a public place is going to work for us in terms of ipods. It seems to me that I need to focus on open communication more than black and white rules. Just being aware that an ipod touch is a computer, and phone and television, is a step in the right parenting direction, and I need to keep an open dialogue with my daughter about what she is doing and with whom she is communicating. Through open communication, I hope we can set boundaries together. I can’t say for sure this is the attitude I will have in a year, or even six month, but for now, with a 6th grader, this seems appropriate.

The game has changed, and the rules need to catch up. What do you think the issues are and what should the rules be?