Should I be worried about my daughter spending so much time on the computer?

My 12-year-old daughter comes home from school and sits in front of the computer for hours. She plays video games and uses MSN to talk to her friends. If I let her, she will spend every waking minute on the computer. I think her brain will rot if she does this too much. Should I be worried?

There really are two major issues with your daughter spending a lot of time on the computer. One issue is safety and the other is time.

Safety include issues around:

  • Bullying
  • Sex perverts
  • Pornography
  • Viruses, adware and spam
  • Identity theft

Your best strategy is to know what she is doing on line. Put the computer in a communal area of the house so you can see if there is a problem when she is on line.

I don’t advise using a hidden way of recording what she is doing. It does not promote trust. Install filters and firewalls to prevent inappropriate spam and accessing adult sites.

Set up a family set of internet rules. These will vary with age.

Talk to her about who she is chatting to, just like you would about her other friends. Notice if she is upset about something and talk about it.

Get involved. Surf the net with her.

She should:

  • never give any personal information on line to anyone she doesn’t know
  • not assume what people say is true.
  • never agree to meet someone she met on line without you

For many youth, chat rooms are a major way to socialize. We may wonder why they don’t just talk to each other at school. But remember the time you spent on the phone with your friends when you were young.

Over the last 30 years, both verbal and non-verbal IQ has increased steadily. Although I personally hate video games, I have to admit they may be one reason why kids are smarter today than we were. There are lots of other possible reasons too. Many video games are interactive and require problem solving.

Some are violent and may encourage anti-social behaviour. Some are pornographic and teach weird ideas about relationships. But some games are quite intriguing and very challenging.

Too much of anything is probably not a great idea. But you have to look at the big picture. If your child is socially accepted, if your child is physically active and if she is keeping up with her school work you may have little to worry about.

Making hours of computer usage dependent on something else is not a bad idea. You could set up ways to “earn” computer time. For example, it could be that:

  • an hour on homework= an hour of computer time
  • being courteous and helpful = an hour of computer time

Or you might decide with her that she has to keep up certain grades, or participate in some sport to get access to the computer.

Thanks to Brann and Mika for consultation. These young women both played on the computer a lot when they were young. They are doing fine now.

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