Friday, April 16, 2010

How to Control Computer Kids

Beware the Lure of the Screen

How to Control Computer Kids
By Dr. Ray Guarendi

APR. 16, 2010 ( - If I let them, my kids would live on the computer. I don’t think it’s a good place to live.

Every computer must have a monitor — a really, really good one. Otherwise, the computer is useless.

What kind of monitor do I recommend? A parent — a really, really good one. Otherwise, the computer is worse than useless. It is treacherous.

Computer technology is mind-numbing. It allows a child to talk to anyone else in the world, visit any place in the world and see anything in the world — good or bad, helpful or hurtful, friend or fiend. Simply put, something so technologically powerful needs powerful safeguards. Anything less is like putting a machine gun in the hands of a 3-year-old. The potential for damage is enormous and it’s only a matter of time.

I’m no computer geek. Only last week did I figure out how to Windex the screen. But I am a childrearing geek. So I have some basic commands to make you a better monitor.

Get the absolute best filter you can find. Get a professional to help you if necessary. No filter is foolproof, but screen out as much unwanted, sleazy, awful stuff as is humanly possible. I know so many parents who didn’t and, man, are they regretful now.

Consider a password to log on. This will keep the computer off limits if you’re not at home. It will keep littler ones off without your permission. It will be a means to teach a child that any misuse or abuse of the computer will lead to a period of password-only access. I am amazed at how many parents permit kids to head into computerland with no more limits than the child’s own self-control. A recent survey said only 17% of parents monitor their kids’ computer use. Unbelievable.

Even if the password is in place, even if the filter is superb, even if you know exactly what Gates is doing online, limit his time. The computer may have even more socially stunting and addictive potential than television.

People — especially kids — need to interact with real people, in real situations, in real time. A real lot. How many husbands nowadays spend far more time with their screen than with their wife? If you let it, the computer will be a tireless piece of technology usurping your children’s time and attention. It is so good at being bad like that.

Keep the computer(s) in a well-traveled, observable family place — the kitchen, dining room, family room. Two of the absolute worst places are the basement and a child’s room. A TV in a kid’s bedroom is foolish. So, too, is a computer.

Dramatically limit, if not prohibit, communication in chat rooms, personal blogs and instant messaging. You can’t know — and neither can they — whom they’re interacting with. And even if you and they do, you can’t really monitor what is said about what, whom and how.

In our home, the older teens can only instant-message friends in supervised, school-related forums. Even then, if we read anything at all objectionable, that avenue is closed for a long time.

Just because a technology is available doesn’t mean one has to use it, particularly if the user’s judgment and maturity is still forming. Too many parents come to understand the computer’s dangers only after their child has personally experienced them.

Are all my stern warnings simply roundabout ways of crying, “Trash the computer”? Not at all.

For better or worse, more parts of our lives are becoming computerized. But nothing now has the kind of virtually unlimited communications and visual power of the computer. It needs to be kept under severe control.

Otherwise it won’t be our servant. It will be our master.

—Dr. Ray’s new book is Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It. Go to for more information. This column originally appeared in our sister publication, the National Catholic Register.

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