Lifestyles Plus 2000
by Patricia Fry
To most people, the title of this article is an oxymoron. Home computers
tear families apart, right? Children and adults alike get so engrossed in their
computers that they may not be seen at the dinner table for weeks at a time.
Some believe that, in homes where there are computers, family togetherness is a
thing of the past. This is a frightening concept when you consider that within
the next five years, 60 percent of American households will have computers.
While the above may be a reality in some households, many families are
coming together because of the computer. In our family, for example,
when we gather for a birthday or holiday celebration, we often congregate
around the computer to share a program or learn a new technique.
A few months ago, at my grandsons birthday party, for example,
everyone was clustered around my computer in fits of laughter while watching
the antics of an animated cat on a program the grandchildren had given me for
Mothers Day. Another time, after a family dinner, one of my sons-in-law
wowed us when he unveiled his new web site. And then there was the evening that
the grandchildren helped great granddad send his first email to a grandson in
These days, instead of our family congregating in front of the TV watching
football or around the piano singing while Uncle Mark plays, we might help
Grandma find a particular collectible on eBay or settle a friendly debate using
an online library site. At one such gathering, our mission was to help
12-year-old Alison locate information on the Golden Gate Bridge for a school
project. Another time, one of our best family computer wizards demonstrated a
new technique hed learned that week.
Is this family unique in our use of computers? I dont think so. In
spite of the negative press around home computers, many households across
America are experiencing a sense of coming together.
Our computer is a shared experience, a neighbor
recently told me. Weve each learned a little something about
computers: Chuck and me at our jobs and the kids, at school, so we often help
each other. The kids love it when they can teach their parents something
More and more parents believe that computer use should not be a solitary
activity, but a family affair. One mother of an 11-year-old says, My
daughter uses the Internet a lot for homework projects and to meet other kids,
but Im always right in the room with her. Leaving her to surf the Net
unattended would be like sending her to New York City alone.
Recently, Mary C. Hickey and her family participated in an experiment
involving computers for a Ladies Home Journal special report. The Hickey
family did everything from going to church to locating local yard sales and
from paying bills to getting their daily news via their home computer. Hickey
concluded in the resulting article that, Almost every bit of information
a family needs for daily life is available on the Net. Not only did this
experiment enlighten and educate the Hickey family, it proved to be an
enjoyable family togetherness activity.
Are computers threatening to tear your family apart? Here are a few
suggestions for making the computer a positive part of your household.
Set Rules and Limits
Have a family discussion about when and how the computer is to be used and
set appropriate rules. You wouldnt give your child a horse without
providing lessons and instruction for its care. Nor would you turn the family
car over to a child without teaching him to drive. Why would you give him a
computer with access to every aspect of the world without guidelines.
Set rules and limits and post them near the computer. These might include
how to behave in a chat room. In my daughters household, for example, the
teenagers are taught not to reveal any personal information in chat groups. She
tells them, Do not give your last name, address or phone number to anyone
over the Internet. Here are a few more suggestions for monitoring your
childrens computer use:
- Set time limits for computer use other than for homework.
- Make sure the child is balancing the time spent at the computer with
- Invest in educational programs and encourage equal time spent learning
with the computer as is spent on entertainment and games.
- Establish a rule that, for every ten minutes the child spends chatting on
the Internet with friends, she must devote five minutes to emailing a
grandparent or other family member.
Establish an open-door policy with the computer. Many parents put the
computer in the family room or another well-trafficked area. Dont be one
of those parents who feels a twinge of guilt when someone says, Do you
know where your children are? Know exactly where they are on the Internet
at all times. Here are some tips:
- Become computer literate yourself and talk to your children about their
- Know who theyre meeting online.
- Teach kids to be wary. Some people they meet online might not be who they
say they are.
- Learn how to trace the sites your children have visited. If you see
listings for any questionable sites, initiate a discussion.
- Learn how to block things to which you dont want the kids having
- Instruct the children to tell you if they receive any inappropriate
messages. Report this to your server.
Become Computer Pals
The key to safe and successful computer use is parental involvement. Help
child with computer research for his homework.
Encourage curiosity. If your 7-year-old expresses an interest in owls,
gold or origami, for example, suggest that the two of you look up
information on that subject in the computer.
Make correspondence a family affair by involving the kids in emailing
family members. Let them scan their favorite drawing to send to Gramps and
Nana or suggest they choose a recent photo to send to Aunt Sue and Uncle Josh.
Use the Internet to plan trips. Together, research possible family vacation
accommodations, typical weather patterns and try to make contact with
someone who lives there to learn about the sights and activities
Is the computer corrupting and estranging the American family? Not in
families who take control rather than letting the computer control them. Make
the computer experience a positive influence in your home. Make it a family
Patricia Fry is the author of Creative Grandparenting Across the
Miles, Ideas for Sharing Love, Faith and Family Traditions (Liguori
Family Friendly Web sites
Build a family Web site where all family members near and far can
Ask Dr. Universe, designed to quell a childs curiosity.
Internet Public Libraries
E-zine for kids
Patricia Fry is the author of A Writers
Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit (Matilija Press,