When Is Your Child Ready for Their Own Computer? And what you need to know before setting it up.

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So, your kid is bugging you to set up a computer in their bedroom. They’re getting good grades in school, their homework is done in a timely fashion, and their chores are taken care of with minimal hassle from parental figures in the house. Will installing a computer in their room as a reward for their efforts help them or hurt them? The answer to that question depends on a number of things that you, as a parent, must address before a space is cleared for a PC in your kid’s bedroom.

Homework Help or Home Arcade?

One thing that can happen soon after a PC is installed in a kid’s bedroom is that it turns into the ultimate arcade machine. While there are countless educational programs you would want your kid using on their PC, the allure of the thousands of arcade-type games available is going to be very tempting for them. It would probably be a good habit to monitor and limit just how many games are installed (as well as what types). In fact, a quick scan of rating levels of PC titles may help educate you on which games are appropriate for your child. And, you can check out this article on games that have educational features to them without actually being “educational” games.

Socially, having a computer in their room is going to entice your child to spend more time alone, away from the family. Additionally, they will end up spending more time in front of the computer than if they would if they had to use a centrally located computer that is shared by the rest of the family. You see, with no “waiting line” to use the computer, your child will have access 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A set amount of time should be in place on how much time they can spend with the computer (either per day, per week, or whatever you feel works best). Otherwise, plan on watching those grades or other activities fall by the wayside as the computer’s addictive qualities take over your kid’s time.

It’s 11pm. Do You Know Who She’s Talking To?

Now for the next big question: whether or not to allow an Internet connection to be hooked up to your kid’s computer. The Internet opens the door to literally anything and everything coming into your kid’s room. From violent images, to porn, to vulgarity, to every parent’s worst nightmare: sexual predators. This all comes with the Internet’s enormous capacity to educate, socialize and broaden your kid’s horizons. Think about the days when you were a student, the days or weeks it might’ve taken you to find that perfect resource for a research paper, rifling though dusty card catalogs in the library. The web holds information about anything and everything which can be invaluable when it comes time to research and learn things for school projects.

And while you can load up their computer with as much content-blocking software as your budget allows, there is absolutely no way of keeping everything harmful from popping up on your kid’s computer screen. So, make sure you are conscious of the things your kid is doing on their computer and inform them of the dangers of the Internet (as well as the places you define as inappropriate for their age). One way to keep tabs on this is by keeping their bedroom door open while they are online and letting them know you may be popping in to check on what they’re doing periodically. It is never recommended that young children have a computer in their own bedroom at all. But trustworthy young adults and teens may be given a chance. And here’s where trust comes in. It’s also a good time to enact a sort of “three strikes and you’re out (or the computer is out, in this case)” policy. If you find them using the computer or the Internet in a way you defined to them as inappropriate, then they are given a strike. To help you out, there are several resources or products you can use to keep your child’s computer safe.

You Hold the Power

If you’re not one to trust the dirty work to others, you can go into your child’s computer yourself and look up where they have been on the Internet. For Internet Explorer: Go to Windows and select History. To check for downloaded files and images, go to Window and select Download Manager. Here you will see a list of files recently downloaded. For Firefox users: Simply go to the History (under the Go option) and look at the sites that have been browsed. To check for downloaded images, go to Tools and select Downloads. Now remember, these methods of checking the history of the computer activity can be erased by the user, so once your kid becomes Net-savvy enough to realize this (and they have something to hide) they can clear their tracks before you have a chance to see what they’ve been up to.

What to Do

The idea of a computer being in the child’s own personal space can be very exciting for them. It gives them a sense of ownership (much like having a pet gerbil or a fish tank in their room—but this is on an even greater scale). With this ownership comes responsibility on their part (as well as yours). So, once you have armed yourself with as much information about Child Safety and the Internet as you can, and you feel your child is going to be responsible enough with the privilege, then it’s time to give your child their own PC. In the right hands, there can be no greater learning or research tool.

Online Safety Tips for Kids

  1. Don’t give out details like your last name, your phone number, where you live, or where you go to school – without asking your parents first.
  2. Never message a picture of yourself to strangers
  3. If somebody says something to you, sends you something, or you see something that makes you uncomfortable, don’t look around or explore; get your parents instead – they know what to do.
  4. Making plans to meet your Internet buddies in real life is usually a really bad idea – how people are in real life can be very different from how they are online. If you decide to do it anyway, have your Mom or Dad help make the plans and go with you.
  5. Don’t open up e-mails, files, or Web pages that you get from people you don’t really know or trust.
  6. Don’t ever give out your password, except to responsible adults in your family.
  7. Always follow your family’s rules for the Internet – they’re there to make sure you have fun and stay safe online.
  8. Don’t ever do anything that could cost your family money unless your parents are there to help you do it.
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