Allowing Children to Venture Forth
I remember the day when Kiki came home from kindergarten with the phone number of a friend I’d never met. She was so excited, she and NewFriend had big plans to go play at NewFriend’s house. I stared at that phone number and confronted the fact that, at some point, I had to let my child go out into the world among people I did not know. Sure I could say no in Kindergarten. I could probably say it through most of grade school, but eventually my child would defy me and go anyway. Also, she would enter her teen and adult years completely unprepared to discern which people were trustworthy and which she should avoid. I took a deep breath and we called NewFriend’s phone number. I went with her to NewFriend’s house. I met NewFriend’s parents. I looked around at their front room and yard, and I made a judgement call. Kiki got to stay and play with her friend. That Kindergarten friend was one of her best friends for the next five years. NewFriend’s mother is one of my friends to this day. I am very glad that I was willing to step into a new and scary world.
I approach my kid’s online lives the same way. Any time there is an online place that they want to go and play, I take a look. I evaluate. I express caution, but most of the time I let them play. Kiki found an online home at DeviantArt. Link is part of an online game community. Gleek and Patch are spending lots of time playing with others on game servers. They play and they know that I will wander by and look at what is on the screen. If I see anything of concern, I’ll point it out and talk it over. Or I’ll revoke computer privileges until we’ve had a thorough discussion and agreement about whatever it was. Gleek in particular has grown quite savvy. She has a particular server where she has played a lot. She’s been granted moderator powers there by the guy who owns the server. This responsibility is quite important to her. She makes sure that unpleasant people are bounced and that newbies are helped. In that online place, Gleek has respect and a job to do. I can see her growing from them. I listen to her talk about the adventures there and I realize that she is learning to be safer online through her interactions. Being online has been good for my kids and I’m carefully monitoring them and teaching them, just as I once taught them how to cross a parking lot safely.
The thing we’re working on most right now is life balance. The online games are very compelling and my kids would be happy to play them all day. I am the one who has to tap them on the shoulder and say “go do something else now.” This is important for several reasons. My kids need to have connections with friends that they can see in person. If they spend all their time online, the in-person friendships suffer. People who don’t have in-person friendships are more vulnerable online because the online interactions have a greater importance in their lives. The kids also benefit from fresh air, sunshine, and exercise, just like any other human being. It is also really important for my kids to have time to be bored. Boredom is where creativity comes from. Boredom drives people to learn new skills just to find something to do. I make sure that the kids spend time away from screens so that they remember that they love drawing, crafts, riding bikes, and a host of other activities.
Unfortunately I’ve never been good at enforcing time limits on kids computer time. When they’re on the computer the house is quiet, and quiet house is very helpful when I’m trying to accomplish a million projects. Fortunately someone pointed out to me that the parental settings let me set hours when my kids are allowed to log on. When they hit the time limit, they’re automatically logged off. No intervention from me necessary. Shortly after I implemented this setting, a magical thing happened. The kids started watching the clock so they could save and quit before the automatic log off. This feature only lets me block off hours. I wish there were a setting that would say “this account only gets two hours of logged in time today.” But I’ll take what I can get.
The online world is still scary. I’m constantly adjusting how we approach it, and my kids can tell you that my first reaction to any new online thing is to tell them no until I’ve had a chance to think it through from all angles. Then, because I’m busy, I often never get around to looking at things until they’ve pestered me for weeks. I tell myself that I’m measuring the importance of the new thing by waiting to see if it is important enough that they keep asking. Right now I think we’ve found a reasonable balance, though I still need to nudge it toward more offline time. In a few months the kids will change and there will be new internet things and I’ll have to figure it out all over again.
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