Matilija Press
Book Titles

Published Article
by Patricia Fry

Lifestyles Plus – 2000

Your Computer
Family Togetherness

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 grandson’s 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 Mother’s 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 another city.

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 he’d learned that week.

Is this family unique in our use of computers? I don’t 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. “We’ve 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 new.”

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 I’m 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 wouldn’t 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 daughter’s 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 children’s 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 outdoor activities.
  • 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.

Stay Informed

Establish an open-door policy with the computer. Many parents put the computer in the family room or another well-trafficked area. Don’t 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 online activities.
  • Know who they’re 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 don’t want the kids having access.
  • 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 your

child with computer research for his homework.

Encourage curiosity. If your 7-year-old expresses an interest in owls, panning for

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 extended

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 spots,

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 togetherness activity.

Patricia Fry is the author of Creative Grandparenting Across the Miles, Ideas for Sharing Love, Faith and Family Traditions (Liguori Publications, 1997).


Family Friendly Web sites

Build a family Web site where all family members near and far can congregate.


Ask Dr. Universe, designed to quell a child’s curiosity.

Internet Public Libraries


E-zine for kids

Online auction

Patricia Fry is the author of A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit (Matilija Press, 2000).

Matilija Press Home | About Matilija Press | Recent Articles | Media Coverage
How to Order Books | Our Guarantee | Consulting Services for Publishers & Authors