Monday, November 10th, 2008
Discuss: A Home Computer’s Role in Your Family
What role does a home computer play in your toddler’s life, and how will it be used 10 years from now? I’ve detailed my answer below; I expect it’s very different from your response.
My 4-year-old daughter is pushing me to give her a computer so she can write, blog and send e-mails to friends and family. It hasn’t occurred to her that her friends don’t write e-mail. She wants to do what Dad does.
This clashes with my philosophical approach to electronics detailed in chapter 7 of the parenting bible I’m never going to write.
“In the formative first five years, focus on activities that involve personal interaction or solo problem solving, exploration or creativity. Avoid electronic games when the electronic function serves as a substitute for a human being. Don’t use electronics when a sufficient analog option exists. Teddy bears that read stories aloud are a fine example of a toy that will send you to parenting hell. Instead, read in person to your child.”
I’d be fine with my daughter not touching a keyboard until first grade, or later. No advantage in rushing it. No harm in waiting.
But here I am with a daughter that, since age 3, has sporadically asked to use my computer to write her blog. Meaning, she types gibberish into Microsoft Word. It’s been maybe six times in a year, so I entertain it. And before that, we looked at animal photos and videos at around 18 months.
My guiding principle has been to present our home computer as a tool for performing tasks and as a learning resource. My favorite thing is, when my daughter asks a question I cannot answer, I’ll say, “Good question. Let’s look up the answer on the Internet when we get home.” Then I read to her about the mystery subject and we review photos and sometimes Youtube videos.
I also use the Internet as a targeted supplement for learning. Last week when we read her a story about Helen Keller, it blew her mind, moments after completing the biography, to watch a video of Helen Keller speaking with her mouth and communicating with her hands. The story became real to her.
I don’t want our home computer (or game console) to become something, years from now, that she gets sucked into playing games on and I have to negotiate with her about how much time she’s spending using it. Such an outcome isn’t inevitable, nor is it easily addressable once you’re faced with it.
This is one of many issues I believe is greatly influenced by the choices we make now, as parents, in the early years. Her peers will influence her behavior, surely, but parents by far provide the greatest influence.
Yes, that means I’ve changed my own behavior. In The Before Time, I was a gamer, very much into first person shooters. Heck, going way back, I was the teenager who pasted Wite-Out and black permanent marker on his PC’s lights so his mother didn’t know he was operating a Bulletin Board System out of his room 24/7. I even compiled a BBS list published in two local magazines. Total computer geek. (Sorry Mom. I even opened my software Christmas gifts early, copied them to play, and rewrapped the boxes.)
Today, I’m lucky to sneak in a web-based game after my kids are in bed. Again, this comes back to parental behavior. Are you a parent who vows his life will be no different than before he had kids? Or are you changing because of your child?
Having said all this, I don’t discount the possibility that my daughter might, for example, acquire an itch for programming a few years from now. But that in my mind is a learning experience, a positive outcome of having a computer so long as it doesn’t consume her life.
My point is: think and plan. What things and activities will your child grow up viewing as normal in her life? What role will this awesomely powerful device play in your home? How will you use it?
Two weeks ago, my daughter diligently typed out an e-mail to her mother who was working at the time. She typed our names, her own name, and one sentence saying she wanted to work at her mother’s hospital. I helped her correct typos, showing her the arrow and backspace keys. She was determined to be successful no matter how much time it took.
Tomorrow I’ll look at ‘my first computer’ products I’m considering for my daughter.
- See related: Buying Guide: Toddler PC Keyboards