Kids and Computers


"Tykes are getting techy even before they hit preschool. Are computers a boon - or a bane - for kids?

A decade ago, when the Internet was still the domain of Silicon Valley computer geeks, the notion of preschoolers logging on to a computer seemed futuristic at best. Well, it's time to wake up and smell the JavaScript: A new generation of cyberkids can point and click almost as soon as they learn to talk.

"Sixty-two percent of 2 to 7 year-olds now have a computer in the home, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation report. By 2005, some 62% of children ages 2 to 12 are expected to be online, up from 24% in 1999. Perhaps the most dramatic change has been in the classroom. In preschools and kindergartens across the country, computers now occupy a place of honor next to play kitchens and block areas. The increase in school computers - which was a mission of Bill Clinton's presidency - has been meteoric. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 1994 only 35% of schools had Internet access. By 1999, that figure had risen to a whopping 95%.

"Not surprisingly, the software industry has taken notice and a surge in computer games designed for babies as young as 12 to 18 months is happening.

"It's a trend that not all experts embrace, though. Last September, the advocacy group Alliance for Childhood released a damning report called "Fool's Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood," charging that computers can threaten your children's health and their intellectual and social development. The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a paper in favor of such restrictive measures as limiting children's screen time and not allowing computers in their bedrooms.

"Some experts argue that parents have turned computers into fancy baby-sitters, much the way they're done for years with TVs and VCRs. Use this checklist to decide if you're being responsible regarding the time your child spends online:

  • You know and approve of the content your child views on the Internet.
  • You limit how much time your child is on the computer so that it's only one part of a full, balanced day.
  • Your computer is located where you can oversee what your child is doing.
  • You monitor the suitability of your child's software by asking yourself: Does my child generally understand the concepts being presented? Is my child able to discuss what he or she is actually doing?
  • You step in with other activities when your child seems frustrated or restless at the computer.

Sounds like a good checklist on your own computer use.

Source: Learn more in the March, 2001 issue of Child.

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