The real world: Balance your child’s offline, online social life

Kathryn Sucich

Does this sound familiar? You go to pick up your daughter from school and she’s standing in a circle with all her friends. But they’re not talking to one another; they’re all texting on their phones. Or your son spends his entire school vacation glued to the computer, instant messaging his friends.

Dr. Kimberly Young, director of The Center for Internet Addiction, says that in many ways, kids’ preoccupation with computers and cell phones is similar to the previous generation of kids who were always talking on the phone. If you’d like a better balance of online and offline activities, though, Young recommends the following:

1. Establish limits

If you let your child use the computer or cell phone whenever she wants and then try to limit her when you realize she’s spending too much time on it, she’ll rebel. Set guidelines from the very beginning so your child is used to them.

2. Join activities

Young says parental planning is more important than ever. Make sure your child takes part in social activities like the school band or a sports team so she develops relationships offline and is less likely to become bored and turn to the computer.

3. Public computer

It’s not always feasible to know exactly what your child is doing online. But if you put the computer in a public place like the family room instead of a bedroom, your child is much more likely to stick to mild online


4. Do they need it?

Young is astounded by the number of students with technology such as BlackBerrys. If you don’t want your child texting, don’t buy the technology that enables it. If he or she needs a cell phone for safety reasons, buy a plan that doesn’t include messaging.

5. Ask for help

If your child threatens violence when you limit time on the computer, it’s time to seek help. Young says it’s often hard to know what’s normal, but if your child becomes preoccupied with technology and too emotionally attached, it’s time to make changes.

GateHouse News Service