Get Off That Computer!

School Holiday Tips

Ah, the school holidays! Time to relax and take a break from the hub-bub of the school year. Time to go slow in the morning, savour long, late breakfasts…Time to smell the flowers and enjoy laid-back family time…

Unfortunately for parents of teenagers, this is more of a dream than the reality of term breaks.

Although adolescents may spend more hours at home during the holidays, the free time doesn’t always translate into quality family time. Freed from the cruel task master of secondary study, few teens turn to their parents or siblings and sweetly plead to make some family memories (if only!). More likely, as soon as they unplug from school, they replug into their online virtual world. And that’s the last we see of them for a while!

According to one report, teens average a whopping 53 hours a week of media time!  More free time and less supervision over the holidays means the media consumption could easily blow out way beyond 53 hours, leaving teens bleary-eyed and anaemic and their parents exasperated.

Excessive computer usage can lead to a few problems, not the least of which is parental frustration! Small issues include eye strain and irritability, while at the other end of the spectrum is the very scary possibility of computer addiction. Debate rages over the definitions of internet addiction, but thousands of Australian adolescents, particularly those who use chatrooms, online gaming, and social networking, are at risk. Internet addiction is a problem that undermines families and wrecks physical wellbeing.

Increased unsupervised computer time also increases the risk of cyber dangers, such as predators, pornography, and gambling. It is very important to ensure that you have the best possible internet safety tools on your computer.  Remember, though, that no filtering program replaces parental vigilance and supervision.

Now, early in the holidays, it is a very good idea to sit down with your student and have them show you their Facebook profile (and any other commonly used site) so you can monitor the privacy settings and the information they are sharing. Young people should be encouraged NOT to include information such as a photo, their surname, age, address, place of employment, school or sporting teams. Any one of those bits of information—even a photo in a school uniform—can be used by a predator to track down a student. Sadly, such people exist, so we must be vigilant.

Another good idea for managing holiday computer usage is to establish clear boundaries early in the school break. Parents should decide on an acceptable amount of computer usage and enforce it consistently.  If these expectations are spelt out early in the holidays—before any problems occur—children are more likely to accept the rules.

Another good rule is: no computer use when no adult is present. (Take cables to work with you. While this may sound extreme, we would take similar procautions to protect our kids outside of the home.) Of course we all know (but sadly few implement) the “no computer in the bedroom rule.” All the experts list this one as the number one rule of home computing. Put simply, computers in bedrooms spell trouble. Situating the computer in a communal space such as the kitchen or family room might not be convenient, but it certainly the best location to keep young people out of trouble.

Limiting computer usage during the holidays makes good sense: it encourages creativity and activity, and time is freed up for beneficial social experiences.  One family (with teenagers) spent an entire summer break without access to home computers.  The mother reports: “Not only did we survive, we thrived. The kids hated being unplugged at first, but they ended up doing other activities, like reading, swimming, and art. One of the girls even discovered the fun of letter writing, and it’s a habit that continues. She and her grandmother (who lives overseas) enjoy corresponding via snail mail.”

Holiday Computing House Rules:

  1. Set the expectation that computing time is earned through chores. Keep it straight forward: 1 hour of work = 1 hour of computer access. That covers access and time limit. No chores, no computer, no exceptions.
  2. Have a family computer-free day—or two! Maybe Sundays and Wednesdays are days that the computer stays off.
  3. Establish the rule that computing only happens while a parent or trustworthy adult is home. You may want to take the modem cable to work with you.
  4. Regularly check your child’s profiles for appropriate privacy settings and ensure no personal information is given. It is your right and responsibility as a parent. Make it a condition of computer use at your home.
  5. Visit Australian government sites such as http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/. You can find tips, tools, and resources for keeping your family safe online.