Having a child who spends all his free time online can be tough. Trust me, I know. Your mind screams at you to do something about it, and you worry about your child’s emotional and physical well-being. But as far as advice goes, I kept coming across the same suggestions – install spyware to find out what sites your child is frequenting, install programs to restrict computer use, use a password to prevent children from using the computer. And as much as I want to see my kids grow up as well-rounded individuals with a healthy social life, I don’t think much of these suggestions.
Sure I’d like A to finish his homework before turning on the system, but I want him to do so as an exercise in self-control and not because I give him the password only once his homework is complete. I worry about the negative influences running rife online just as I do about the negative messages bombarding kids in their everyday lives. Parental control software does a passable job filtering out the former, but can’t do much for A in terms of the latter. And while it would put my mind at ease to see a list of the websites that A visits in the hours he spends online, it wouldn’t do much for our relationship when he realizes I’m spying on him.
How then does one deal with a child with an internet problem? Get online with him!
This may not sound like the ideal solution, but there are plenty of reasons you should spend time having fun with your child online. Here are just a few of them.
- It’s what your child loves
To form a lasting relationship with your child, it’s important to get to know him better. Spend time with him doing the things he loves. Show appreciation for the things he does well. And if this means watching your child play games online, so be it. The hours your child spends online clearly points to the fact that he enjoys what he’s doing. And when you show interest in spending time with him online, it gives him the message that he is important to you and that you are willing to accept him just as he is.
- It will teach you more about your child
What exactly does your child do in all the time he spends in front of the computer? Is he a budding writer of fanfiction? Is he a star gamer? As long as you watch him disapprovingly every time he gets online, you’ll never find out. Free your mind of prejudices and let him know that you’d like to spend some time with him online, and that it’s entirely up to him to choose the websites you visit together or the games you play. It’s quite likely that the thirty minutes you spend doing so will teach you a lot about your child you couldn’t have learned otherwise.
- It opens the doors of communication
Being familiar with the websites and online games that your child enjoys is a great starting point for having conversations with him. You can talk to him about the people he meets online or his latest achievements in his favorite game. Additionally, the time that you spend online with him is a special time that you spend connecting over his interests, and he is far more likely to open up to you during those sessions than when you criticize him for using the internet too often.
- It provides great opportunities for teaching
Sure, there are plenty of learning games and educational websites designed to teach your child scholastic skills and while I strongly recommend them, that isn’t what I’m referring to. The online world in many ways mirrors the real world and just as you teach your child social skills and values in everyday life, you can teach him the same skills while connecting with him over the internet. When a fellow gamer uses bad language or an online buddy is mean to your child you can turn the situation into a positive learning experience. Just as you encourage your child to be a kind and compassionate friend, you can teach him to develop a positive online persona.
Spending time with your child online is a great way to get him to open up to you about his internet experiences and interests. It also makes your child more receptive to any suggestions you may have about responsible and controlled internet usage. In addition to this important step, you can encourage him to take control of his internet usage by getting him to maintain a log wherein he notes down how much time he spends online and which websites he visits every day. Use the log as a starting point to discuss any changes that you expect in his daily routine and which tasks must take priority over his computer usage. With honest and mature discussions you can equip your child with the skills he needs to lead a wholesome and fulfilling life, both online and otherwise.
*I am not referring to Internet Addiction Disorder characterized by the progressive loss of control over one’s ability to regular internet usage. If your child faces frustration, anxiety and irritability when unable to go online, feels the need to get online for longer periods to experience the same ‘rush’, abandons friends and other hobbies to focus on online activities and spends most of his offline time thinking about past or future online experiences, he is suffering from Internet Addiction Disorder and needs professional help.