As any parent of a child with autism knows there is just something about the computer that draws your child to it with the strength of a magnetic superconductor. There is no way around it. I personally think there is some telepathic message being sent out that affects your child’s brain wave patterns that turn them into computer-suckerfish. I have never experienced anything like it with any other toy, electronic appliance, or school related item (ok school related item may be pushing it. That would not happen no matter what). The question is what can you do about it, if anything.
Honestly, we all know that too much of anything is no good. Just as pediatricians have told us for decades that too much television is not good for children, so too, too much computer is no good for children. But on the other hand, television has educational programming like Sesame Street. That wonderful old stand-by of Elmo, Bert, Ernie, Big Bird and of course our friendly neighborhood grouch Oscar. ( I have to tell you that I used to have the boys watch the English version of Israeli Sesame Street, not just because they would garner a basic understanding about Israel and Judaism, but because the name of the grouch is Moshe Oofnik. Don’t you just love it- oofnik, I still tell them they are being an oofnik when they are cranky.) Then of course, computers have terrific educational programs as well. My children were brought up on Reader Rabbit, Learning Center and Carmen Sandiego. Sadly my friends tell me none of these companies exist anymore or they have merged and the programs that we loved have disappeared.
Today the boys are much older and have a different purpose for their computer. Yes, they use it for school. A computer is a wonderful research tool for every subject imaginable. The kids really really love Wikipedia. But I have to tell you the teachers and professors do not. It is generally the only source that educators tell the boys never to use in a paper. Then of course you need to watch which sites they go on. There may be a myriad of educational sites, but there is also plenty of hate sites as well. I just “googled” the words “quotes, foreign policy, Israel,” and the first page were all anti-Semitic hate sites from the United States and around the world. It’s my impression that sites are presented from the most trafficked to the least. Sadly, I am afraid this does not say much about the world we live in does it.
Luckily the boys tend to know where to go for information and how to access it. They are old enough to understand plenty about the world around them and to know when they have hit upon something terribly negative. But of course that was not always the case. They were not born older teens, but began their sojourn into the world of computers very young. Collegeman was four when we bought our first computer, and Highschoolboy has been on it since he was two years old. He actually at that time probably understood more about the computer than I did. In fact, by the time he was five he was helping me program my cell phone and fixing issues on the computer at home.
Now what do we do to protect our children from the hate sites? Simply put there are parental blocking programs where you can go in and stop sites with certain words in their title or front page from being accessed by your child. We used them very effectively when the boys were young. However, we also realized that at some point they will do no good, especially when HSB figured out how to unblock it. Don’t ask me how he did, he just did it. But these programs are effective when the children are very young. HSB was around nine when he outsmarted us and the blocking software.
Then of course there is the all purpose, don’t put anything in their room. Keep the computer in a central location, a place that you can have easy access and spy on your child. Yes spy. Tough nuggies as the saying goes. They may think they are old enough to surf the web themselves, but the average teen cannot make informed decisions about who or is not a “good” person on the internet, never mind a child with social relatedness issues. This actually brings up another topic, and that is social media. Truthfully I have been really lucky. Neither boy is interested in facebook, twitter, MySpace or any of the other social media out there. They do not understand how important it has become in the lives of so many tweens and teens. They frankly do not care. I am also not about to tell them. Yes, I am lucky and I know it.
We also did not allow the boys to have their own emails until collegeman started college. We knew that he had to start to explore his independence in some ways especially since he was still living at home. However, we have the password and access the emails continuously to see who he is talking to and what content he is being sent. He does have an account on You Tube where he comments on video downloads. But for the most part, nothing has ever been said that is inappropriate to him but sometimes some responses have been nasty. We let him deal with it. It’s really about differing opinions and nothing has ever been said that caused any cause for alarm. Additionally, it has also become necessary for us to check his email, because he forgets and misses important announcements from professors. We have reminded him to check his email but to no avail. On the other hand he does correspond nicely with the professors and his advisor so it is also a positive social reality for him.
But lack of interest in social media is not the reality for most parents. The FBI has a wonderful website that teaches parents about internet safety and what to do and how to protect your child. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also has a website for parents called NetSmartz.org. Please use these sites as a place to start and learn how to protect your children on line. Just as an aside, my brother-in-law has the passwords to both of his children’s facebook pages and continually checks them and will even delete a picture if he finds it inappropriate or questionable. That was the compromise they came up with and I have to say I do agree with his parental oversight (don’t tell him).
We did however; face a different challenge with HSB. He does love his Xbox. Now for those who have been living among the Amish for the past decade may not know that Xbox, Nintendo Wii, and PlayStation 3 are the total bomb. Most children, especially boys, would give their eye teeth to possess one or all three of these systems. HSB just loves his Xbox. Why? Because at one point he had a microphone headset that allowed him to chat with players when he played an on-line multiplayer game. I have to tell you I did not like it. It caused me the same concern that you would find with social media. In fact in many ways, since it is so immediate, it can even be more concerning. HSB was talking in real time to people on Xbox. You did not know who they are. You did not know where they are. You did not know if they are who they say they are. You did not know if they are the age they say they are. You did not know a darn thing about anything they said. In fact, a recent report by an internet watch group actually stated that Xbox multiplayer interactive games are a pedophile’s paradise.
Needless to say, I had taken away the microphone, not because HSB had done anything wrong, but because it truly concerned me. He was actually forbidden to chat on line and forbidden to use his microphone in game play. However, one day, while HSB was on the computer playing an on-line game I could have sworn that I heard voices coming from the computer. He kept reassuring me that it was just the game. Now he did have a microphone on his computer which he used for Spanish practice, but I really didn’t think anything of it. The next day I heard him singing as he played his game and the computer told him to “shut-up. “ Now that I knew was not a computer generated part of the game. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Mommy went into action.
Not only did the boy loose his microphone. He lost that game and any other multiplayer game that required a microphone access. He also could not touch that computer for a week. You know it wasn’t even so much that he was chatting, even though he had been told not to. The reality was that he had been told not to on the Xbox and you could surmise that in an aspie sort of way he didn’t realize that that meant the computer too. Except he lied to me about the voices coming out of the computer, so I figured he really did understand the implications of a no microphone interaction rule. It was a bad scene let me tell you. Screaming, crying, temper tantrums, the whole gamut. He was lucky he was ever allowed back on the computer again. But guess what he doesn’t pull any nonsense, at least not that I have been able to discern. By the way, his computer is in his office, which is right off the kitchen/family room. The rule is that the door to that office is always always open and that we, his parents walk in anytime unannounced. (Listen it’s not his bedroom. In there he has a bed, dresser and books. There he can close his door and we do knock before entering. At 16 he does need and is entitled to some privacy as well).
Another issue that parents face is what kind of games to buy for the computer and any gaming system. The truth is that you know your own child. Some children are on age level and some children are not ready for age-level games. I know that many of us worry when our children don’t play what their peers are playing, but remember too many tweens and teens play games that are inappropriate for them in the first place. Mature games are just that, mature and are rated that way, just as an R rated movie is rated that way, for a purpose. It is not Big Brother trying to tell you how to raise your child. It is a warning that some content may not truly be appropriate for your child’s age. I tend to find that the ratings are right on target. The truth is that there are many games out there that I think should be removed period. But that is just my opinion and living in a democracy there are just some things we cannot control as much as we feel we need to. Listen HSB still tries to save the world from Zombie mutants as often as he can, but at least he knows that gratuitous violence in a reality based game is just nasty.
Ultimately, the best way to figure out what is an appropriate game for your child is to read reviews from reputable sites. Here are HSB’s favorite game review sites:
Don’t you just love the challenge of parenting in the 21st century!
Until next time,