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July 28, 2008

Lessons I Have Learned About Kids and Computers

Computer_001_2 We bought our first computer after I started teaching.  Apple made it easy for teachers to buy a Mac for their personal use.  I would be able to get work done at home, and my children could use it for school assignments.  This was a big deal!  I still remember when it was delivered and how we worked to set it up, plug it in, and turn it on.  We went over house rules for computer use, which included first getting permission from mom or dad, and things sailed along smoothly for a few weeks.  Then, without warning, the computer stopped making sounds.  It didn't make so much as a "blip" or a "ding" and we could not figure out why.  I finally called tech support, when tech support meant a person answered the phone and was able to help you.  I explained the whole story and followed their directions to check everything that could be checked.  The verdict was that someone had removed the computer's capability to make sounds, and the solution was to re-install the computer's operating system.  Strategic questioning and good mommy detective work led to the conclusion that our youngest had single-handedly removed all sound from the computer.  He was six years old.

Lesson #1:  Despite all the precautions taken, stuff happens.

We had internet access long before we set up an email account because we didn't have anyone to email.  I still wrote letters and made phone calls to family and friends, who didn't have email either.  Then our oldest went away to college, and we set up an email account so we could correspond with her.  I discovered that I loved email:  I could send messages any time of the day or night, and I could read messages and save them to read again later.  My daughter loved email:  she could get email even when she wasn't at her computer, and she could respond when it was convenient for her.  When my sons went to college, they quickly learned that if they emailed regularly mom would not feel it was necessary to call them on the phone.

Lesson #2:  Email keeps everyone happy.      

As it sometimes happens, parents bring technology into the family and, sooner or later, the children figure out how to use elements of the technology that no one thought they knew existed.  This eventually happened in our house.  The computer lived in the den, with the screen in full view at all times.  I made regular over-the-shoulder-what-are-you-doing visits and routinely reviewed house rules about computer use. [Now read Lesson #1] One evening I received a curious email about my membership in a what-I-will-not-mention-here club.  It seems I had joined and could now enjoy the benefits of membership...except that I hadn't and I didn't want to.  It didn't take me long to figure out who had.  Turns out the person-who-will-not-be-embarrassed-here didn't realize that the club sent a confirmation email to all new members.

Lesson 3: The computer has ways to share information with mom.

Once our youngest was in college, we no longer had house rules for the computer.  I had the years the kids were at home to instill computer etiquette and values, which I hoped they honored when they were on their own.  We did continue to talk about how to be safe over the internet and how to protect ourselves as much as possible.  Then, last week, my youngest son came to me with a question.  His university had sent him an email that asked him for personal information for his loan, information he had already filed with the financial aid office.  He wanted to know if this was a legitimate request, and since I didn't know, I called the university.  The person who answered the phone first commended my son for asking the question, and then she explained that the university has changed their lending procedures.  Indeed, my son needed to give his personal information to be entered into the new system.  He had done everything just right.

Lesson #4:  When it really matters, my children do listen.

Sharon, who now turns to her children when she has questions about the computer, also posts regularly on her personal blog at www.owlinmaine.blogspot.com.      

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