When should a young child first use a computer?

    by Mark Glaser
    March 8, 2006

    It seems like kids are getting soaked by media at earlier ages with each passing generation. Is that a good thing? When my son Julian was 18 months old, one mother of a teenager warned me: “Avoid screens for as long as possible — TV, videogames, and computers — because once kids get used to them, you can’t get them off.” I thought that was good advice, even though I have been immersed in screens for as long as I can remember. Now my son is 3 and 1/2 years old and he loves typing email messages to his grandparents, and is obsessed with trying a kids’ paint program on the computer.

    Is the time right for him to use a computer? What age is best, and why? How early should kids go online and experience the Internet? What about videogames? How do you limit your kids with their screen time? Use the comments below to tell me, and I’ll quote the best ones in the Your Take Roundup.

    • Cao Kun (from Shanghai, China)

      It’s so intriguing to figure out that there are merits and demerits in what we invented and are embarking on. 21st century, after all, is the era of the Internet and subsequent flow of information, accompanied by rapid strides in science and technology. How inevitably we witness kids’ access to computers and Internet, and subsequent consequences.

      Take a boy next my door as the example. The 11-year-old has been stuck in his computer, especially, video games, since a laptop computer was admitted into his home, so his mom usually criticizes, even punishes, him for poor academic performance triggered by his obsession in computer. What measure has so far been taken is getting computer hidden away from the 11-year-old’s eyesight.

      In virtue of kids’ poor self-discipline and blurring understanding of dos and don’ts, what role kids’ parents play is much pivotal in guiding kids what’s beneficial and what’s detrimental over the Internet, and calling for Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Internet Content Providers (ICPs) and governmental agencies at all levels to set up the designated Internet Service for kids that is free from pornography, violence, strong language, hatred, discrimination, racism and sexual predators’ hunting for kids.

      People, groups and organizations from all walks of life are all out to create a better and cleaner virtual environment for kids, even though all actions and measures we take can’t prevent vicious stuff from approaching our kids with 100% guarantee.

    • Sardius Stalker

      The factors to consider from a developmental standpoint are whether the child has the motor skills and comprehends how to work keyboards and mice. When isn’t really as critical as how it is done. If parents are buying “educational games or programs” and participating in the learning process then there is value.

      If the computer is being used as an alternateive to television and is unsupervised you get as much value as unsupervised television viewing. Children learn through playing and experimenting with their environment so how rich and meaningful that is is what the parent makes it or allows it to be.

      A final thing to consider is not to make it tedious and uncomfortable for the child. We learn best the things we enjoy doing.

    • Jeffrey Root

      A young 5 year old should first learn keyboard skills by practicing everyday for 12 weeks. Some schools in the US already are teaching their kindergarteners these skills. It makes a world of difference when teaching 1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 4th graders Language Arts, word processing skills and study skills as they progress through the years..

    • april

      My son began “using” the computer at 4 months old. Now, at 6-months, he loves “typing” and looking at still pictures of babies. I don’t have him watching moving pictures with bright colors ans things though. I do fear overstimulation. I think when your child hows interest is when you should let them learn.

    • Tonya

      We have 4 children, 12, 10, 7 and 4.
      They are limited to 1 hour of screen a day.

      They may earn up to one 1/2 hour more if they read for 1/2 hour or go outside and play for an hour. (There’s more freedom on Saturdays.)

      As for the computer, we have some educational programs and I used them in small doses (10-15 minutes) as early as maybe 20 or 22 months. My 4 year old “plays” Reader Rabbit and is learning to read.

    • Philip

      How early to allow kids to use computers is probably different for each child–our 6-year-old son started at 2 years of age–but what my wife and I now realize is that it’s critical to closely monitor and LIMIT our son’s time spent using the computer (and watching TV).

      We’ve found that computer games, even the educational ones (Leapster, etc.) tend to dampen his desire to participate in non-computer activities like playing outside, participating in team sports, or painting and drawing. I also think computer games could be slowing his social & emotional development.

      Last week, as punishment for hitting another child at school, we turned off the computer and the TV and we were pleased to see our son’s general behavior improve. He was more attentive and less prone to tantrums. He happily played with his toys, read books and created artwork. It’s really opened our eyes to the powerful affect (good and bad) that computers can have on kids.

    • Marie

      Computer / electronic knowledge will be necessary for our children. We can’t get around it. My mother is now learning to use a computer at age 50, and feels somewhat left behind. Video and computer games improve reaction time. This helps my 10 yr. old in sports. Educational computer games get him involved when paper and a pencil don’t. He just completed a math-a-thon fund raiser on the computer, and studied for Bible Bowl questions on line. Enforce moral standards. (What material is appropriate.) Monitor. (We only have one computer that is connected to the internet and it has child security features.) Responsibility comes first. When my son is distracted from a responsibility, what ever distracted him gets taken away for a day. If he fails to clean his room in a timely fashion because he was watching TV, the TV goes. There doesn’t have to be a fight. It’s just a fact. And as parents, we have to practice what we preach. Do we sit in front of our computer and TV, or do we make time for family time? Why would our children be inclined to do other things if he or she never sees us do other things? (I’m just as guilty as the next…) A child craves and needs direction. Guess what OUR job is!

    • I suggest that a child of young age should in the beginning of using a computer use that computer only usually but not limited to in certain instances start particularly by using this device on the weekends.

    • My son started watching the iTunes display while the baby sleep folder played as an infant. As soon as he had enough manual dexterity to push a key, less than 6 months I think, he had learned how to change manipulate the colors and shapes a little by hitting several keys on the left side of the keyboard and to change a song he didn’t like by hitting the right arrow key.

      He also learned to hit the space bar to stop the color show.

      He thought the colors and patterns on the screen were fascinating. As he got tired he would look at them, sometimes in wonder and excitement, other times with curiosity and the desire to control something, anything, at a time when he could hardly walk.

      Did he get to sleep any earlier? Hard to say. It did not reduce our Father/Son reading time, it just expanded our quiet rocking together time where we were nonverbally experiencing the music and the lights together.

      Of course, eventually he got old enought to understand just why, I liked to put on Hushabye Mountain at bedtime and that started to be the end of that.

      He has had constant computer time since then but we have carefully kept him from understanding as much as we could, that the cd reader in the computer was also a DVD player given the incidents with Chocolate syrup in one DVD player and Grape Jam in the VCR of the DVD/VCR combo. After I got that working I caught him hanging from the DVD tray and that ended that.

      So we have tried not to let him have any non-guided time at the computer, but nearly all of it, you will be glad to know is at PBS.Kids and related sites.

      Once he was talking, I asked him where he wanted to go and he said “Pbs.Kids” and I said, how do I get there? And he said, you just click that circle, it says PBS Kids.

      Of course it did. If those of you reading this know the logo it is very distinctive. What shocked me was that before 2 he knew “that it said PBS kids” and when I asked him to clarify that point he was quite specific.

      Some of this I have to blame on PBS Kids.

      First of all, he has never been satisfied with age appropriate stuff either on TV or on the computer.

      His first love were the music videos from Between the Lions and if you haven’t seen When Two Vowels Go Walking, struggled with W Trouble, been pressed into Vowel Boot Camp or seen any other of the wonderful reading videos there you don’t know what you are missing.

      These alone justify his computer time. But there is a lot more. For example, today, at 3 we were zooming through an early level of Mrs. Percival’s Spelling Game at the Bob the Builder’s website.

      Now, did he get those letter skills from the computer alone? From T.V.?

      Of course not, he has many dozens of books to choose from and it is a rare day when my wife or I don’t spend at least an hour or two scattered through the day reading to him, pointing out letters in words. Compared to that, his reading time is inconsequential, his TV time is not.

      The key barrier to more computer time is his own manual dexterity, which is turning the corner and his natural preference for being active, which is a great thing.

      But as long as it does not get out of hand, I see the home computer and a safe monitored internet connection as excellent ways to help his growth into what he wants to do in the future. Like any other thing though, from chocolate to swimming, you have to watch what your child is doing.

      While some things, like pouring soda on your Mac get less likely as children age, there are always some dangers to be found in anything kids approach. As parents, its our job to share the way with them in a way that makes it possible for them to learn to pick smart health ways on their own.

      That’s a job you have to start as early as possible. Skip some part of life, or wait till they are 5 or 6 and the has already left the station as far as I am concerned.

      Peter, Chief Editor and Spell Wrecker
      The Peter Files Blog of Comedy, Satire and Commentary

    • After that long post, I should add the long one I stifled:

      When they have enought RAM not to ram it.

    • brian

      i think they sould be at least 6 yrs. old . When thety are searching the internet and a pop ups and pornographic pics mite show up

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