Q: This Summer I was surprised to find myself compulsively checking my favorite websites several times an hour. Then we took a family vacation and I went cold turkey with no Internet. Not only did I manage to survive without it, I realized how much extra time I suddenly had on my hands.
While my 4 year old daughter hasn’t shown any particular interest in computers, she’s been asking more often to spend time on Nick Jr.’s site. I know that today’s children need to be fully conversant in computers, but at what age? I don’t want her to fall behind, but given my recent discovery of how much time I wasted online, I don’t want to encourage computer use in place of the fleeting joys of childhood.
A: Many parents share your concern that children be offered every possible learning opportunity, including early exposure to computers and other electronic media. And few parents take the time you took to reflect on whether that’s a good thing.
First, there’s the idea that not exposing your child to computers early will deprive them of an educational opportunity. But there has yet to be a case of child who fell behind because she didn’t take to the Internet quickly enough, whether she started at age 2 or at age 8. Additionally, many children today have trouble mastering handwriting or drawing with markers because they’ve learned these skills on the computer before developing them in the real world. And those skills are much more difficult to build later in life.
There’s also the issue of anxious Internet use, of the kind you describe in yourself. I recommend listening to your instinct and continuing to shield her from letting computer time overtake other activities in her life. Helping her focus her attentions and energy on interactions with real people and objects will do much more to build her flexible and thoughtful brain than spending time with the computer will.
You should be proud of yourself for reflecting on computer use not only for your daughter, but for yourself. Hopefully you can spend some of your newly found free time to challenge, teach and play with your daughter. Those are the interactions kids need at her age. If she comes to a computer after learning how to express herself in the real world, she will see it for what it is: a tool to aid people with real world tasks rather than a world unto itself.
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Enjoy your media and use them wisely,