Should kids have computers in their bedrooms?
At a glance
- Education and child safety experts recommend your child doesn't use the internet in their bedroom.
- The reality is a very small percentage of kids will come to physical harm through contact with online strangers.
- Cartoon-like avatars are a great alternative to kids posting images of themselves online.
- Teenagers in particular are prone to sleep problems which are compounded if computers or phones rob them of sleep.
- If your child has a MySpace or Facebook page ask to see it. If you can see it anyone can so there is no argument about respecting privacy.
The internet has changed the way kids socialise. It's an amazing place that allows your child to make friends with another teen living on the other side of the world, and to discover differences and similarities.
Just as you'd make some inquiries about new friends that appeared at your front door to spend time with your child, you'll also need to find out about the people they're meeting online.
Of course, monitoring your child's online activities is easier said than done when your child has a computer in their bedroom, with internet access.
Shut the door on cyber predators
While predators are out there, the reality is a very small percentage of kids will come to physical harm through contact with online strangers.
You may have already installed filters to block pornography and inappropriate sites, but knowledge of potential dangers will help keep your child safe on other computers and their mobile phones.
Australian researchers have found children who don't include photographs of themselves or their email addresses in their social networking profiles are less likely to receive sexually suggestive messages.
But most kids like to have an image of themselves online – and avatars are a great solution. They're cartoon-like characters you can personalise and put on your profile. Better still, they're actually heaps of fun – and often free – to create. Visit www.free-avatars.com.
When it comes to naming your avatar, choose something creative but non-sexual such as "Sk8trQueen", not "Sweet Sexy 16".
Keeping bullying out of the bedroom
Education and child safety experts recommend your child doesn't use the internet in their bedroom.
Former Victorian police officer and cyber-safety consultant Susan McLean says the internet can give the bully direct access to your child's bedroom; "the one place that they should be safe".
However, if for some reason the only place your child can study and access the computer is their bedroom, consider options such as:
- Leave the bedroom door open, with agreed random visits by parents
- Create a technology curfew. Disable the computer, and remove the mobile phone from the bedroom at a certain time each night.
Lack of sleep can be a nightmare
Another compelling reason to make your child's bedroom technology-free is to allow adequate rest.
Jennifer Hudson, a professor of psychology at Macquarie University, says teenagers in particular are prone to sleep problems, which will only be compounded if computers or phones rob them of vital sleep.
"As soon as adolescents start to take an extra half-hour off their sleep to check their emails in bed, or just texting someone (and that's often happening throughout the night), that can lead to an accumulated sleep debt for the week," Dr Hudson says.
"We know when kids don't get enough sleep that impacts on their mental health, their functioning at school and their relationships."
Setting cyber rules your child will keep
Dr Hudson suggests some strategies to help you make realistic rules your child can agree to and keep.
1. Keep the lines of communication open
Negotiation with your child relies on having a good relationship. The way to maintain your relationship is by regularly spending time together, such as family meal times.
"In our busy lives it can be difficult to find time to spend together, particularly when an adolescent is resistant to that because they believe it's a ‘daggy thing' to spend time with your parents," Dr Hudson says.
By making time for your child, you're also making space for them to tell you about their life.
2. Make it safe to tell
Your child needs to know from the outset that if they are contacted by a predator or are being bullied, they can tell you without fear of losing their internet or laptop access.
The fear of being 'cut off' from the online world could prevent your child from speaking up.
3. Decide together where and when technology can be used
Dr Hudson suggests shared problem-solving techniques to get kids onboard with your rules – especially when they hit the teen years.
Tell your child you're concerned about their sleep and their safety, and ask them to help you write down as many solutions as possible.
"When you've both come up with a list, decide which ones you can toss out and which ones you can both live with," Dr Hudson says.
4. Be consistent with rules
"It's necessary for parents to set boundaries for their child," Dr Hudson says.
She suggests consequences for breaking rules could be loss of recreational screen time or other privileges.
5. Get involved and stay in touch
If your child has a Facebook or MySpace page, ask to see it. Google their name to see what they've posted that's publicly available. (If you can see it, anyone can, so there's no argument about respecting privacy.)
Discuss anything you're not comfortable with and suggest how it can be changed.
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