Teach kids never to give out personal information such their address, phone number, real name, or the address of their school to random people with whom they converse on the Net. For example, if a child meets someone during a chat session, it would not be wise to start giving out personal information. There are other situations in which they may be asked for personal information. For example, many sites ask for the user's full name, address, etc. on a registration page. Instruct young people to get parental permission before filling out registration forms. Kids and teens should be taught never to give out family information (such as a parent's credit card number) to individuals they meet online. In addition, they should not give out the name of their parents' employers. Teach kids not to send anyone their picture without getting parental permission first. Teach kids never to agree to meet with someone they met online before getting parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public spot, and be sure to accompany your child. Teach kids not to answer any message that is mean or that makes them feel uncomfortable. Teach kids that there are both good and bad places on the Internet. Put the computer in the family room or other public area, rather than a bedroom. Review the logs of the sites your child has visited. Keep your password to the Internet a secret and change it often. Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children . Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor their compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child or teenager's excessive use of online services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic baby-sitters. Visit the other places where your children might have access, such as libraries, schools and friends' homes. Make sure you are comfortable with the ways these locations deter offensive access. Teach your children how to interpret and evaluate the material that they see around them. Teach your children they have the right to say no.
Like television, VCRs, and other forms of electronic activities, computer use with young children automatically brings up issues and concerns for parents. We worry about whether or not these powerful machines will have negative effects, and wonder what our expectations should be for the influence they might have on children's education and development.
Myth # 1. Computers will make my child smarter.
There is some truth to this idea. There is no doubt that a computer and great software can be a fun and exciting learning tool and can even provide practice of pre-academic and academic skills. Keep in mind, however, that computer software cannot teach kids concepts that they are not developmentally ready for. For instance, your preschooler may not be able to handle (and will be frustrated with) a program focused on reading short words. He may be more ready for a program that provides light exposure to pre-reading skills like letter recognition, identifying patterns and classifying objects. Also remember that young children learn best with plenty of well-rounded hands-on experiences. Computers should always be considered a supplement to other, more concrete learning activities like completing puzzles, building with Legos and blocks, reading books, creating art projects and playing on the playground.
Myth # 2: Sitting close to a computer screen will damage my child's eyes.
Not true. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, computer monitors (or VDTs) are considered to be safe for normal use and present no hazard to the eye. "There is no convincing experimental or epidemiologic evidence that exposure to VDTs results in cataracts or any other organic damage to the eye." For a more detailed report, contact the Academy at 415-561-8500.
Myth # 3: Computers give off harmful radiation.
In our daily lives, we are constantly bombarded by a spectrum of radiation. The electromagnetic rays given off by the computer are of the safe, nonionizing variety. A number of useful studies have been conducted by scientists at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Center for Radiological Health and Devices, Bell Laboratories, and The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. The data from their work indicates that computer VDTs "emit little or no harmful ionizing (e.g., x-rays) or nonionizing (e.g., infrared) radiation under normal operating conditions." In fact, according to their report, the amount of ultraviolet radiation produced by a typical computer monitor is a small fraction of that produced by florescent lighting (See NIOSH Publication No. 81-129, June 1981).
Myth # 4: My child will become less social by using the computer.
You've seen the zombie-like posture that children often take when watching television ... hardly a social experience. Educators and parents have similarly been concerned about possible negative effects of the computer on children's desire to interact with others. Unlike television, however, the more interactive, child-controlled nature of some computer software can be conducive to sharing, taking turns and playing games together. While the television doesn't know if the child is in the same room, the computer, in a sense, does, by providing activities that adjust to children's individual responses and by giving customized feedback. Just like toys, different types of software can influence the way kids play. Some programs, for example, have options for one or two players, increasing the opportunity for making computer use a shared activity. Of course, as with any activity, too much of a good thing is probably not healthy, and a child who spends an inordinate amount of time on the computer may need help in setting limits.
Myth # 5: My child should understand how computers work.
Unless they show an interest, don't feel obliged to teach your child about the inner workings of a computer, or terms like CPU and so on. It's simply not necessary at this young age. More important is that they learn how to use computers ... to point and click, click and drag, use pull down menus, and so on. How do they do this? With your guidance, naturally, but best of all&emdash;through their own exploration and discovery.
Myth # 6: Making my child computer literate now will better prepare her for the future.
There is some truth to this notion. Familiarity and comfort with computers is certainly useful for daily survival, both in and out of school. The risk associated with this myth comes from placing too much emphasis on the computer as a "must" for children's future welfare. It's a better mindset to regard computer use as simply one more experience that can support the development of good old fashioned learning skills such as being able to read and write, think logically, and solve and analyze problems. It can also enhance the learning process by allowing kids to have experiences not possible without a computer.