27 May, 2008

Internet Safety V

My friend, Charlotte, mentioned that her oldest daughter (8 years old) is getting interested in using the Internet. To date, her daughter uses the Internet to find information, e.g., Wikipedia. While riding to work this morning, I tried to figure out whether this is a good use of the Internet for young children. Surprisingly, I don’t think it is an age appropriate use, for reasons I mention below.

This post is about the guidelines I followed with my children the last fifteen years and the guidelines would I give to parents of young children, after working for the last years in a research project concerned with digital media in schools. Here is my list of points concerning young children (3-10 years) and use of media and the Internet:

1. Offline

This might sound Old School, but I would suggest that your young (under 8 years) children do all of their computer activities offline; or, if online, under your strict supervision. I think children should use computers, any digital media actually, to participate in some sort of meaningful action or interaction and not as source of information. When they are young, it is a question whether children really need interaction with people they don’t see in person, or go on sites whose purpose is to reach an attractive consumers group.

If they need information, let them read books. If you want to help them develop their imagination, follow the same advice. Take them to a library. Let them breathe, see, and hold books. This is important.

2. Exploration

You should encourage your children to explore their world and tell stories of their experience with the help of media. They should draw, sing, dance, put on plays, make up poems, write journals, make movies, etc. using traditional and digital media. Don’t leave out anything: neither the glue and scissors nor WinWord or wikis.

3. Magic mix

Encourage your child to combine all sorts of different media when they are working on a project. For example, let your child write a travel journal with the help of paper and pen, but later, print out some photos that they can stick into the journal, or cut out some pictures from a tourist magazine. Make up a collage or digital photo album about the places you saw and the special moments you experienced, and send it to friends and family. Use whatever media you have, the magic is in the mix.

4. All programs are games

Let your child use computer programs as learning tools for as long as possible. You can sell any software program to your children as a computer games until they are six or seven years old at least. There is really not reason for your children to spend too much (any) time playing jump and run or shooter games when they are really small. There are a deluge of excellent learning programs and projects for young children (from 2-10 years) that they will find fun to do.

5. Practice making rules

In the early years, introduce the concept that there are rules they have to follow if they want to “play” on the computer. My children could only play once a week and for 20 minutes at a time until they were six or seven years old. Then they were allowed a half an hour twice a week. They had to put on an egg time when they started. If we came into the living room while they were “playing” and there was no timer on, then that qualified as play time over.

6. Let children do all the work

A child has to be allowed to create their own stories in the manner they do best. As a supervisor, you don’t have to tell them what to do, you don’t even have to give them detailed instructions on how to do it, you only have to scan in their finished drawings or record their songs for later discussion and presentation.

7. Be informed

As a parent, go looking for ideas on the many websites and educational platforms that are available. Here (1, 2, 3) are a few I like.

This post is much too long, please excuse. Do any of you have other suggestions for young children? Does anyone what advice about somewhat older children (8-12)?


  1. Yes, I think you are right that the younger kids need someone with them at all times, but here in the US by age 8 I think they need more time on the computer at home. By age 8 they should be in 3rd grade. All class rooms have computers now, and kids that age are incouraged to have laptops even if left at school.

    The earlier they get started, the more they assimilate the information. The world is computerized, and some of us are not. They need to be.

    Yes, they need a balance of all the mediums. Absolutely. 20 minutes a week on the home computer will put them behind the curve with their contemporaries.

    Older kids have so much homework now that they are overwhelmed. They too need a balance, but they need at least an hour a day above and beyond their homework. Perhaps they too keep a blog or diary. Absolutely supervived with the computer in the livingroom.

    My eldest G'son grew up in a family that didn't have a computer focus. Today he is behind the 8 ball at age 22. A middle grandson grew up with computers everywhere, and he is now at age 17 on an internship to design a program for an insurance company.

    That's me thinking too much on your dime. I apologize.

  2. Hi -- I came here via Charlotte's place.

    My kids are 6 1/2 and just-barely 4, so I can't really comment on your guidelines. I would say, however, that there's been substantial convergence of media, with TVs becoming more computer-like and computers becoming more TV-like and then there's the iPhone and iPods... so I find it hard to believe that limiting a child's use of a computer specifically would put her at a disadvantage. I mean, kids these days say email is for old folks. At the same time, if you feel it's important to limit computer use, I think you also need to limit use of other technologies (TV, iPod, etc).

    BTW I work as a web developer & I'm 37. The internet didn't even exist until I was in my 20s. It's never too late to learn : )

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