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Moms Talk Q&A: Kids and Technology

North Potomac-Darnestown Moms Council discusses youth technology use.

Each week our eight-member Moms Council discusses a different parenting issue. Join the conversation by weighing in on a topic or asking the expert panel your questions.

This week's question comes from Mom Council member, :

Computers. smart phones and "i" everything are an integral part of our daily lives, in fact many of us would have trouble unplugging for one day. Children younger and younger are using technology at home and in schools. How much access do you give your children to technology and how much do you encourage or discourage the use of technology?

: I'm constantly amazed at how even very young children are particularly adept at utilizing electronic devices - I see kids as young as 2 and 3 using their parents' iPhones and iPads like pros! On the one hand, we certainly can't escape the fact that our kids' lives will revolve around - and depend on - technology in a way that we can not even imagine right now. Our kids will have to be adept at using and adapting to changes in technology. In that sense, I think it is important that our kids learn to use technology...responsibly. We certainly allow and encourage our three kids, ages 3-5, to learn and explore different technology. They are allowed to play a few kid-friendly educational games on the computer, simple games on their dad's Blackberry, play with their Leapsters and scroll through pictures on my (very basic) phone. However, all of this is done under our supervision and in limited doses. They understand the limitations - the appropriate and inappropriate times to use the technology and moderation in terms of how much time they are allowed to use the technology. We make sure that we engage them in plenty of alternative forms of entertainment - board games, physical activity, reading books, listening to music, etc. - so that the technology is not their only source of entertainment. And as we do in all other areas, we lead by example by putting down our technological gadgets and spending quality time together as a family. I think that the key is balance - teaching and becoming adept at using technology but not becoming so engrossed in it that we neglect other important areas of our lives.

I encourage technology with my kids, but I also limit it the same way that I limit chocolate chip cookies. They need to have the tools to know about the world, use the technology for school and work and connect with others online in a healthy way. The future for them will be completely tied to gadgets and knowing how to use them.

They need to be taught about this in the same way as anything else – there is “use” and there is “abuse.”

When my kids were younger, they were never allowed on the internet unless we were doing it together. We're lucky that my husband is a computer programmer, so we have very strict “parental control” and know exactly how to track what they do on the computer and the internet. They have no privacy on gadgets and they know it. 

The abuse part comes when they don't know when to put it down or don't have the enough knowledge about it to be safe.

It always drives me around the bend when an 8 year old is glued to a DS or a teen is texting their “BFF” during a party or other social gathering. It's rude for a kid to be doing it as much as it is for an adult to be doing it – even when you are sitting across from somebody boring.

Also, in terms of safety, you wouldn't send your young child into downtown Washington on his own, but he might be out there when he's in 11th grade. You have to take the same approach with the internet. They have to be socially aware of cyber-bullying, staying away from strangers and scams. Also, they'd better know that whatever they post or send via the internet could possibly become very public, very fast. So if you wouldn't want your mom to see it, don't put it out there. Hoping this will ingrain in my 13 year old's head before she gets to be 16 or so.

: In my family access to computers, cellphones and other tech toys is not an issue. They do not spend very much time on the computer and only rarely play video games. We have the Nintendo, Wii, Leapster, iPod touch, etc. but my kids are not interested them. The one item that my kids will ask for is my cellphone. They know where the aps are better than I do. Most of the games are educational (multiplication facts, sight words) or art aps. They also enjoy using the phone to take pictures and videos. I have to admit that I love being able to hand my phone over to my kids when they start looking for something to do.  For Christmas my oldest got a Flip and I will buy her a cellphone when she's ready. Since my kids are not "tech junkies" we are able to integrate new technologies into our household with much worry.  

Lani Mark: While I started with a less technology is better attitude for my son, I have now changed my tune. I can't count the number of times letting him play a game on my ipod touch or watching a video on youtube has saved the day. I also think many companies such as Vtech and Leapfrog have been great about embracing all the new technology and using it for good. There are so many fantastic kids "toys" now that help with learning math, letters, reading, phonics and more.  

I will say I do not plan on letting my son have a computer in his room until he is MUCH older and even at that, will definitely use one of the watchdog programs to monitor that he is only visiting safe sites and communicating with safe people that I have approved.  In the meantime, I am happy to let him use "safe" technology that is not connected to the internet as a reward for being good, any time we are waiting in lines or at a restaurant, and in the car or during quite rest times.  

I never dreamed that I’d be having i-battles with my kids at ages 6 & 7… but here we are. At some point during this past winter, I realized we were getting out of control, as the kids went from playing Wii to i-pad games to DS to Computer. A friend told me her child was limited to 30 minutes/week of electronics. I couldn’t imagine what this “only-child” occupied himself with all day. I’m ashamed to say that we were up to several hours/day before we put on the brakes. Together with the kids, we discussed the pros and cons of technology and came up with a goal of 30 min/day. For the most part, we’re doing well with sticking to that timeframe, however there are certainly days we go beyond and they’re able to “bank time” for days when they simply play outside or do non-technology activities. While we’re much more conscious about the excessiveness potential, there are also some benefits I see to the many i-activities. The accomplishment of “defeating that next level” can’t be a bad thing for self confidence… and the Wii really does get them moving, provided they’re playing the right games (like Just Dance)… The games they play on the i-pad certainly challenge the mind – solitaire, jigsaw puzzles & Angry Birds, which is a physics lesson in addition to fun. On the computer, we get on school approved sites, PBSKids & Club Penguin. I feel still in complete control over what sites they access and intend to keep it that way for a long time. There are some scary statistics out there regarding internet safety, so vigilance and involvement are crucial to their well-being. As in everything else, moderation is key and a balanced lifestyle, including time to get out and play is critical. The upcoming nice weather and addition of a trampoline to our backyard will help!

Fortunately, our sons are very active and would rather be outside playing than inside, so spending hours in front of an electronic device is not an issue. Given that, we actually encourage them to use the computer and other forms of technology. Of course we have limitations and rules regarding usage. On our computer our 7 year old has a folder marked “Jake’s Favorites” and he is allowed to independently access sites in this folder, all of which we have approved. He is quite proficient with the mouse and is very comfortable using the computer. He will also help his little brother navigate sites like Thomas the Tank Engine and Disney. This provides a good opportunity for them to work together quietly, cooperate, and gives the older one chance to teach the younger one. For his 7th birthday, Jake asked for an ipod to have for music. We actually decided that an itouch would be money better spent because it has many more functions (games, music, etc.) and he would be apt to use it more. He loves his itouch but is not “chained” to it. Given that technology is such an important component in the educational arena, I feel he should be technologically savvy. Technology doesn’t replace reading, board games, coloring, etc, instead it is another avenue for learning and leisure. Again, limitations, restrictions and strict parental supervision accompany usage but I feel comfortable with our choices so far. In fact, I’m hoping Jake can teach me a few things because I’m way behind the times already!

Mobicip March 17, 2011 at 06:10 PM
If your kids access the Internet on the iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, you may want to look into setting up parental controls and restrictions on these devices. See these tutorials for more information. http://knol.google.com/k/suren-ramasubbu/how-to-setup-parental-controls-on/2hrtmvjs09ng1/6 http://knol.google.com/k/suren-ramasubbu/how-to-setup-parental-controls-on-ipad/2hrtmvjs09ng1/8 Hope you find it useful.
Jeannette Lemieux March 25, 2011 at 07:14 PM
My daughter has used technology since I can remember - 3rd grade she was putting Power Point slide shows together, designing clothes, Middle School she needed her computer, camera, video for documentaries and interviews. We don't limit her in any way and don't have parental controls set - we trust her. My son would spend all day on his xbox given the choice - venturing out of our basement only for food. So we do limit how much time he spends on it - but again no parental controls set up. He knows what programs he can watch and which I think are offensive. I take the same view with computers, TV, internet etc.. as I did with baby proofing our home when they were younger. In that I did not baby proof the home - I think you can go too far in protecting your children - and some things just aren't convenient - padding on tables, covers in electrical sockets, gates on stairs / elsewhere, locks on cabinets. I preferred to say "NO" and let them know what was expected from an early age - if they choose to touch the hot glass on the fire then they learnt a valuable lesson.
Kid Internet Safety April 18, 2011 at 12:45 AM
I totally encourage the use of technology with our little guy & other kids. Our boy is 10 years old. However he is closely monitored by software and his parents (us), and is also a responsible user. He understands the dangers of the Internet & loves the videos I have put on my blog explaining the dangers. Technology is not going away & its important to let kids experiment & become proficient at the tools they use & will use in the future. http://www.kidinternetsafetyguru.com

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