Our greatest friend and worst foe of this century is definitely the Internet. How many of us ask Google when we need instant answers? When my kids ask me a question I don’t know the answer to, I often tell them that Google is their best friend! The universe of information you can discover on the Internet has amazing benefits – and more than a few drawbacks.
I visited a friend who had just had a baby – her third. I wasn’t surprised to see a computer in the living room, but I was surprised to see her two-year-old on the computer. He was listening to songs on YouTube and happily humming away. Her eight-year-old was using an iPad in the living room, surfing the Net, doing research for a school project. This is probably a common scenario in most households today, as the computer has become an essential part of our daily lives. I went on to ask my friend the obvious question that most of us parents face: how do you ensure that the children are not distracted while doing schoolwork on the Internet?
What is your child doing on the Internet?
How would you know if your child is doing homework, playing a game, chatting with a friend online, updating his Facebook status – or all that at the same time? It’s very tempting to see the latest comment on your Facebook post when you’re supposed to be solving math problems online. It’s even more tempting to chat with a friend who’s online when you’re supposed to be doing research for your project.
We can’t blame children for getting distracted when they are online. According to a survey conducted in offices to find out how much work people do at their desks, adults spend a huge amount of time on websites that are completely unrelated to work! How, then, can we blame children for getting distracted each time they are online?
It’s easier said than done when we use words and phrases like ‘willpower’ and ‘mind over matter’. In reality, it is quite difficult not to habitually stray from browser tab to browser tab when we’re working online, and there’s no way parents can continually peer over their kids’ shoulders to scrutinize what kids are doing online. So how can we help them?
Website filtering software may work, but…
One effective but unfriendly method is to block distracting websites from the computer altogether. Quite a number of parents swear by this method and advocate it. I personally feel it is unfriendly as it creates a hostile atmosphere in relationships where children feel parents don’t trust them enough and parents try, often unsuccessfully, to explain their actions. When I almost tried this method on my then-11-year old, the look on her face told me how untrusted she felt and I dropped it, seeking more friendly methods.
Whether with younger children or older children, I always find that communication helps. Talk with your children. Ask them what kind of websites distract them and why. This helps them to be more aware of and better manage distractions. Try to talk with them into setting mini breaks to indulge in fun activities like watching videos or instant messaging. For instance, your child could get five minutes of Facebook or a few minutes of music to de-stress after completing some online work.
As children get one gadget after another, they end up using these gadgets as time fillers. Instead of having a meaningful conversation about their day, they pick up their phone to check a Facebook comment. Instead of having a family dinner, most children (and sometimes adults) are engrossed in mobile games. To avoid these distractions, it’s good to set some house rules that all members of the family must follow. For example, the dining room and living room could become a ‘no gadget zone’.
Let them manage their time
Give your children the responsibility of allotting themselves a reasonable chunk of time to engage in social networking, games, etc daily. This will drastically affect the amount of time spent multitasking on distractions while they are meant to be completing an assignment or doing research online. Explain to them the concept of ‘work hard, play hard’ and encourage them to enjoy their rest/play time so that they can commit fully when they are working.
Parenting is a lifelong learning experience where each day gives teaches you brand new lessons. How do you keep your child from online distractions and help them build good computer usage habits?