Friday, April 24, 2009

Techno Parenting

Now that my cherubs are getting a bit older and more techno savvy, I'm allowing them greater reign on our family's home iMac. They appear small and defenseless in the shadow of its 18-inch screen. Their eyes stare widely at the images glowing back at them. The computer becomes like God in their little worlds for a brief moment.

Thanks to Awol, we are now regular Starfall visitors and the boys have a usual agenda of watching the snowman story and then proceeding through the alphabet. M (4) generally dominates the mouse, however T (2.5) has been showing mouse adeptness lately. (I won't mention how many times I've found said mouse in pieces on the ground, curiously dismantled by the young lad. He is now no longer allowed to be alone in our home office!)

The boys' most beloved computer activity by far is perusing YouTube and watching Thomas toy train videos made by other children. As long as mom keeps a watchful eye on show choices, this activity generally produces enough benign and interesting bits to keep the boys' interest for hours, though we try not to let it go that long. They are little train voyeurs and enjoy watching other children's train tracks and play best of all. It has been most interesting to watch how these videos have influenced their own track development and storylines. Our M is now a master track builder, using everything from legos to boxes in order to get the right height for his latest track creation.

For right now, the computer serves as an incentive for good quiet time behavior. If the boys are well-behaved during their quiet time, they are allowed 30 minutes of computer time following. Each infraction removes 5 minutes from the total. My sister uses the computer to motivate her sons' daily use of manners. "Manners Money" pennies are distributed to them throughout the day, each equivalent to a minute of time to be spent on the computer.

How do you manage computer time? Families with multiple older children, how do you divide computer time to allow for all members to have equal share? Also, what parent filters have you found that are worthwhile?

While we navigate this important techno force within our homes, let us bind together and share information to keep our children safe and our strategies most effective. I look forward to hearing your ideas!


Julie said...

We have our computer in a central area in our home and allow the kids to get on it at leisure. By having it close by, we can monitor the sites they are surfing. I like the idea of using computer time as incentive and am curious to hear how others handle it. I suppose more monitoring will be necessary if we get another computer later on or if we end up housing it in a different room. You can never be too cautious!

Becca said...

If they like YouTube videos, you should introduce them to, which is a filter site for kids with YouTube videos that have been cleared by a panel of parents. Membership is free, and my 3 yr old and 15 month old love surfing this site for hours! It's self-contained, too, so you don't have to worry about them clicking outside the site into something inappropriate. And it's a LOT easier to navigate than YouTube and less "busy" on each page.

Currently, our 3 yr old has unlimited access to "his" computer (an older desktop), which is set up in the playroom. We have parental blocks set up so he can only access websites like,, and Plus, he's got some educational software loaded on there that he knows how to access. Our 15 month old watches him play, and occasionally "plays" herself on my desktop in the living room with my help. When she learns how to use the mouse, we'll have to work out some kind of sharing system so they both get time on the kid computer.

The punishment of withholding computer access is the worst, and most effective threat I have in my arsenal. I don't like to use it, though, because we a) consider computer literacy to be just as vital as learning to read and write and b) computer games are our son's primary source of indoor educational play (by his preference).

B-Mama said...

Becca, thank you for the great insight, especially the awesome reference of the totlol site. I just visited and it is phenomenal! It is going to make my supervising role much less stressful and the boys will have an easier time navigating the site. I'm also going to consider setting up our extra laptop with all the parental controls and special links as a computer for our oldest--great idea. Thanks so much!

And to all the families enjoying this beautiful weekend OUTside--have a great one! :)

Kyra said...

My son (2.5 yrs) has some vision issues (he's considered legally blind) so he doesn't watch any television and doesn't know any of the popular shows. I have had success however in doing some interactive computer activities with him on the Nick Jr, Little Scholastic and Crayola websites. They usually have cute activities and print outs for even the youngest of kids.

He also seems very interested in Paint Shop on my laptop. I'll "paint" the whole screen red and draw different shapes, etc. It's a more instantaneous effect than drawing on actual paper, plus I can print out the results and make little books for him. The hard part is getting him to keep his hands off the keyboard...

MargaretJDMom said...

Thanks for that totlol link. I have to admit I keep youtube blocked off my computer because there is so much unsavory material available on it. I don't want my kids hitting on something by accident.

I recommend my filter- I also have family members who recommend safe eyes- which is the only one that works for Macs I believe.

In terms of computer use...we try not to use it too much. We have the computer in the kitchen where I can constantly monitor it. We often used it during the winter months during the "howling hours" when I was trying to get dinner on. They would all do starfall or my big guy loves the between the lions site.

Anyway, I highly recommend filters to everyone! It is no replacement for a vigilant mom....but we owe it to our kids, and let's face it, ourselves and our spouses.

Juris Mater said...

B-mama, my children have almost no computer skills, mostly because I have a touchpad instead of a hand-held mouse and they can't figure out how to use it (fine motor control is not Bella's strong suit). Also though, at this toddler/young child stage, computer feels more akin to TV than to real life learning and play. I suppose I need to develop some appreciation for these website you all mention.