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Household Technology Rules for Kids? 136

Posted by Cliff
from the helping-them-learn dept.
An anonymous reader asks: "My wife and I are in the process of adopting kids- We're hoping to adopt older boys (8 and up) from within the US. We've gone through the state mandated courses, but those courses don't really cover how to limit the kids with respect to technology (the Internet, TV content filtering, cell phones, MP3 players, etc). The latest strong potential son is a 14 year old child that is computer aware. I do not want to completely shelter the child, but I do want to establish boundaries- for example, I'm not going to install filtering software on his computer, but the computer will be in a public place in the house." How would you control a child's exposure to new technologies, especially when a few of those technologies are bundled with inherent dangers in addition to their great advantages (like the Internet)?
"I want to give him the freedom to learn and be creative, but also try to avoid the nastiness on the net (like the RIAA). I want him to have the freedom not just to play on the computer, but to truly use it. From everything I've been told about the kids in the foster system, they do best with a structured environment- something predictable and stable, so I think a set of rules for him to start with would be good. I'm asking for some ideas for appropriate rules/boundaries for kids, including things to watch for, and appropriate punishments (something akin to 'you broke the server, so you'll have to rebuild it, with dad's help')."
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Household Technology Rules for Kids?

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  • Don't bother. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by keesh (202812) on Friday September 15, 2006 @05:43PM (#16117492) Homepage
    Don't bother even trying, you'll just make a fool out of yourself. Your kids already know about everything you think they shouldn't.

    Heck, my mother thinks I (who am 23 years old with long term significant other) shouldn't be using the Internet at night in case I find pornography.
  • by whoever57 (658626) on Friday September 15, 2006 @05:44PM (#16117494) Journal
    Putting all PCs in a common room will strongly limit a child's desire to download dubious material. Do this both ways: use your own PC only in family areas of the house.
  • Re:Don't bother. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by donaggie03 (769758) <d_osmeyer@hotmail.COWcom minus herbivore> on Friday September 15, 2006 @05:51PM (#16117540)
    I agree. A 14 year old isn't stupid. If you should do anything, it would be education. Make sure the kid knows about the evils he could find out on the internet, so he can be truly aware of the choices he makes, and thier consequences. But don't try to block him from those choices. If you do, it'll only make a kid (who has had a pretty sucky life as it is) think you don't trust him, leading to secrets and lies and etc. If the kid wants to do something wrong, he'll figure out how to get the job done, whether you are watching over him or not, but NOT watching over him is in itself a bigger statement to convey.
  • Don't do anything. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by drcagn (715012) on Friday September 15, 2006 @05:53PM (#16117556) Homepage
    Your child will have to grow up someday.
  • by jascat (602034) on Friday September 15, 2006 @06:02PM (#16117609)
    That's where the difference between parent and child comes in. Parents get priveleges because they are the adults. They have greater responsibilities and know better the differences between right and wrong. I personally would not do this for the fact that I think it is okay to download porn for my wife and I to enjoy in the privacy of our bedroom. The kids (though we don't have any yet), don't have the privelege of downloading porn because they are underage and it may harm their development. They have not had the time to properly develop an appropriate view of the opposite sex and they don't need to be exposed to some of the absolutely bizarre stuff out there. I know this may sound hipocritical on the surface, but why do we not allow children to drink alcohol or smoke? They can't handle the responsibility of it, and while I did drink underage, I didn't realize until I was about 21 that I was completely misusing it as a teen.

    My suggestion, let them use the computer, but supervise them. If they come across something that is inappropriate for them, talk with them about it. Give them forewarning that there are things out there on the Internet that aren't appropriate for them. Open discussion is the best thing you can do. I say this from watching my sister, mother of three, who has a teenage son. Technology is huge in their house, but none of the kids ever use the Internet (or watch TV for that matter) without adult supervision. If something comes up that is inappropriate, they close the browser/change the channel and if anything is asked, they explain to them in a noncondescending way that they aren't ready for those sorts of things yet.

    Best of luck to the OP! Open honesty will bring you closer to your children than you can imagine. Raised by a father that avoided the tough topics, I can attest.
  • Re:Limited Access (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Elfboy (144703) on Friday September 15, 2006 @06:04PM (#16117620)
    damn... good way to prep the future generations for the police state...expecting authority figures to have full access to your entire life at any time for any reason. And mainting any privacy is instant cause for guilty status.

  • by InsurgentGeek (926646) on Friday September 15, 2006 @06:13PM (#16117666)
    I hate the idea of filters, key stroke loggers, etc. What are you going to do with the results? Telling the kid you caught them doing "x" also reveals the fact that you are monitoring them. My geeky answer has worked for me. I run a squid proxy server in the house. I showed my son how cool it was that I could generate reports on all websites visited, etc. He got the message. Twice in four years I've had to sit him down and say "x" is not OK and no - normal people don't do "a", "b" or "c" - especially with barnyard animals.
  • by moore.dustin (942289) on Friday September 15, 2006 @06:23PM (#16117706) Homepage
    You seem like you are going to be a involved parent, so you can take the steps you have already taken and just apply good parenting in general. Since the computer is in a public place, that will help a good deal - I would do the same. Then, just be attentive to what he is doing on the computer. Check the history and programs he has installed. Poke around every now and then and you should be fine. If is able to hide things from you, even when you are looking for them, then that is a good thing I guess. He is learning how to use a computer in more ways and learning the ins and outs, even if it is to hide something from you.

    Careful though, if he hides things well and you go through some serious steps to find it, he may look at that the wrong way. A trust issue maybe? I honestly cannot say, but just be aware of it I guess.

  • by nosredna (672587) on Friday September 15, 2006 @06:24PM (#16117708)
    Since you're adopting a teenager, you're going to have a radically different experience than everyone else here. I don't have kids, but I have two nieces, one foster and one adopted (14 and 7), and there are a lot of things different from what my parents had to deal with from my brother and I.

    Since you aren't starting with a child from birth, you have to go through a period of actually getting to know them before you can really decide what kind of rules there need to be. Talk to them, and find out what they know already, and what they're used to, and work from there. A 14 year old new to your family isn't going to react well to arbitrary rules, especially if they're radically different from what he's used to. Anything that's much different from his normal should be explained. You don't have to explain everything, obviously, but you need to be open with them on the reasons for things that they may not agree with.

    I recommend keeping the electronic entertainment in common areas, but that's more of a spending time together thing. The last thing you want to do with a newly adopted kid is to encourage them to spend time away from the rest of the family. Give them space, but make sure that they've got some draw to be out and about with everyone else.
  • Re:Limited Access (Score:3, Insightful)

    by An Onerous Coward (222037) on Friday September 15, 2006 @06:29PM (#16117739) Homepage
    If your kid is okay with this, then expect him to live with you until he's 45. Because he has absolutely no need for an independent identity, and therefore little incentive to seek any independence at all.

    If your kid is normal, on the other hand, expect nightly screaming matches, much sneaking off to use the 'net at libraries or at friends' houses, and probably a serious bid for emancipated minor status at the age of sixteen.

    You sound like the sort of parent who gives his kids rigid boundaries, while giving himself no boundaries at all.

    In short, no child could live with this, no child should have to live with this, and if you succeed in your aims you'll most likely turn the kid into a self-destructive partier the moment he's out of your sight. Open, honest communication beats ironfisted control any day.
  • Re:Limited Access (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kesch (943326) on Friday September 15, 2006 @06:30PM (#16117742)
    No, don't you understand, the GP's draconian measures will help breed the child to subvert such measures in the future. If he starts now by hacking the admin password, using seperate browser profiles for dubious surfing, or maintaining a secret email address, he will be prepared tommorow to use Tor to post political dissents to his blog hosted on a machine in Sweden.

    (I don't know wether this deserves a sarcasm tag. I want to go for it, but right now I have a little pessimistic voice inside me saying "Maybe... just maybe.")
  • Re:Limited Access (Score:3, Insightful)

    by harryman100 (631145) on Friday September 15, 2006 @06:36PM (#16117770) Homepage
    For a child of 14 this sounds extreme. Just put the computer in a public place, and keep an eye on it. Wander up frequently (to start with) and say "What'ya doing?" be curious, and not accusational. You're on slashdot, you know technically how to control his access. But the OP wasn't asking that, he was asking for rules, and boundaries, to be enforced parentally not technologically.

    I would say you could go about this two ways:

    One:
      - Let him have his own account on the computer, his own email address, etc...
      - Impose limits on WHEN he is allowed to use it (only for 1 hour after school, or 2 hours after dinner providing homework is done, or whatever time limit you think best)

    Two:
      - Have a single account on the computer, which the entire family shares, let him have his personal email address.
      - Have the computer in a communal place in the house. Somewhere where there's normally people around. Make it social.

    Contrary to what the parent says, there's no point in having a monitored email account, if he wants to avoid being watched, he'll get a hotmail account or something.

    Option 1 provides freedom, but a limited time - it provides a structure which the OP says was desirable. The last thing you want is a teenager BORED in front of a computer. That's when they start going to look for the dubious stuff.

    Option 2 encourages open-ness, but without appearing to monitor directly. Allow him to monitor you as well. This will build more trust. If you start deleting browser cache, or being secretive - that encourages him to. Rules aren't laid down, but rather they are implicit.

    If he breaks the rules, come down hard, restrict the access to the computer - but only for a limited time. (If he does it again, then make the restrictions more pernament).

    There's a third option - this is the one I'd go with, but it's also the one which requires you to be the best parent, and it would only work if he has an interest in computers. Teach him about them. Encourage him to learn about them, and to start tinkering, encourage him to do something creative with a computer (be it programming/whatever), then give him a free reign. If he breaks something important - he fixes it (with help if necessary - it must be a learning experience, otherwise there was no point in breaking it). Forget about restrictions. Monitor what he does, but do so by showing pride in what he produces, encouraging him to invite you to see what he's doing. My parents did this. They knew that after a while, I knew more about the computer than they did, but they encouraged me to teach them, and to continue learning. I never broke something so bad I couldn't fix it myself, but I cocked quite a lot up. Encourge him to be responsible online and participate in things (sensibly). Teach him about privacy, about how to keep his own, and how to respect others.

    You may want to adjust the rules frequently. Don't be afraid to try something out, it's parenting, you're not supposed to get it right first time...
  • Re:Limited Access (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mjvvjm (1003135) on Friday September 15, 2006 @06:46PM (#16117849)
    Do you happen to be a parent? (And were you a kid? I suspect you must have sprouted from a pod.) Nothing personal, but I fear for the future of kids raised on such a short leash. This is a terrible suggestion unless the child in question has already shown demonstrably (criminally) poor judgement online. Such measures are likely to either instill the new member of the family with an intense distrust and rebellion against the parents' authoritarian measures, or, if accepted, prevent the kid from developing a sense of personal responsibility. I have never posted before, but felt compelled to create an account and respond to short-sightedness or naïveté of the parent poster (no pun intended).
  • by tverbeek (457094) on Friday September 15, 2006 @08:00PM (#16118163) Homepage
    You make it sound like he needs a computer to masturbate. Or that he even needs porn for that. Untold generations of teenagers learned to play with themselves and develop healthy sexual imaginations without the Web, BBSes, Playboy, pin-up calendars, or even dirty limericks. I've got nothing against porn, but I certainly didn't need it to fuel my imagination, and much of my best play was (and continues to be) in the dark with my eyes closed.
  • by drt1245 (994583) on Friday September 15, 2006 @08:05PM (#16118184)
    As a 16 yr old, I feel compelled to answer.

    By putting restrictions or limitations on computer/internet/etc usage, you will accomplish nothing. It will signify your lack of trust, which is a bad way to start. Additionally, with even a small amount of computer knowledge, such restrictions are generally easily bypassed.

    The same applies to TV filtering. By doing so, right off the bat, you are basically saying there is _no_ trust, and that is a very bad way to go.

    That said, it would be a good idea to make sure that he understands what you allow and what you don't, however, long discussions are a bad idea, especially on topics he probably isn't comfortable discussing with you. Remember that he probably knows you won't be happy to catch him downloading illegal music, so repeating it is just annoying. Short and sweet is your best friend.

    As for rules/boundaries, several things should be kept in mind. If he spends a lot of time on the computer, so be it. Remind him and encourage him to do other things, but forcing him to not use the computer will just piss him off, and who knows, maybe he'll end up as a computer science major. If he seems to be switching windows every time you walk by, he's probably doing something he shouldn't be doing.

    As for punishment, remember that there are a lot worse things that he could be doing than illegally downloading music or watching porn. If you see him downloading music, at least you know he isn't out doing drugs. And if you catch him watching porn, the embarrassment he goes through would be far worse than any punishment you could give.
  • No limits (Score:4, Insightful)

    by anomaly (15035) <tom.cooper3@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday September 15, 2006 @08:12PM (#16118201)
    Why not provide booze and hookers - after all, at 14, he would probably just find those things on his own anyway. In fact, why establish any limits at all?

    Boundaries and limits for kids are like the guardrails or jersey walls on bridges across a deep chasm - they provide security and safety. Perhaps a 14 year old knows a great deal about computers - perhaps not. Setting limits, building relationship with him, and "inspecting what you expect" (aka trust but verify) will be a major boon to him.

    Not establishing limits - including protecting him from spyware and pornography - is really stupid.

    A 14 year old is a big child. Science tells us that his brain will still grow and develop for about 10 more years. He needs structure, discipline and guidance. I highly recommend the book "It's better to build boys than to mend men" by the founder of Chik-fil-a. He has built and operated foster homes for kids and knows a great deal about how to help them.
  • by tverbeek (457094) on Friday September 15, 2006 @08:19PM (#16118223) Homepage
    This isn't a technology question; it's a sociology and psychology question. What on earth makes you think that we're qualified to help with it? While there are certainly some people on /. who have some applicable parenting experience (and they'll probably post it), the apparent demographics of the /. population suggests they're a small minority. In fact, I'd anticpate that the majority of people responding are closer in age, experience, and attitude to that 14-year-old than they are to the parents of one. Hell, I'm biologically old enough to have a kid that age, but I don't... which gives me just enough wisdom to understand that I don't know a thing about how to parent one. The college students and twentysomethings her don't even have that. If you want parenting advice, better to ask Doctor Spock, than Mister Spock.
  • by schon (31600) on Friday September 15, 2006 @10:11PM (#16118612)
    I was exposed to porn off and on from about 6 on up.

    So was I.

    I had to overcome issues with women and the degrading light that some of those images portrayed combined with my naive mind.

    I haven't.

    Being raised by a single parent father without much of a female influence may have had some to do with this, but I did have issues in my view of women when it came to sex later on in my late teens and early twenties.

    I was raised by a single mother, without much male influence. Perhaps the issues you had was because of your father and the way he relates to women, rather than the porn?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 16, 2006 @06:16AM (#16119628)
    I've registered three /. accounts so far, but it's always months between uses, so the UN's are well and truly gone from memory.....so AC it is. As another 16 year old, I'll chip in here too....

    Monitoring is probably wasting your time. A 16 year old will always find a way...if you set up a proxy and monitor everything coming in through the net, he'll find another way...get a mate to burn him a few DVD's a week, perhaps. In my opinion, this leaves protection and education as your options.

    Education isn't easy...personally, I always was fascinated by computers, so I read a lot, and quickly picked up the right way. Most teenagers aren't. They need to be taught. Viruses and spyware are the obvious ones - if you can convey the idea that you shouldn't trust a free lunch till you've seen how it's made, you'll have taught a valuable security concept, and have explained one of the many benifits of OSS. Since much spyware piggybacks on "freeware", this could well save a lot of grief.

    Protection is a technological issue....there's a hundred ways to do it, but my solution is outlined below.

    I would seriously suggest the use of emulation software (take your pick) on linux (take your pick) to control the environment allowed to your teenager. By using a package that allows changes to be tracked before being committed, a safe environment can be created - your teenager will require your assistance to install any program permanently, and any damage done merely requires a restart of the virtual machine. Explain to the teenager the advantages of using this environment.

    However, I would also suggest encouraging use of the underlying Linux system. Grant permissions there sensibly, so the system can't be broken, but allows your teenager to LEARN how the system works, and how to use it. In time, if you're paying attention, you'll know how your teenagers skills have developed, and you'll be able to increase boundaries and trust accordingly.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong. I've always had access to root on these machines, and my parents trust my judgement, so the concept of limitations is a bit abstract....but I know from restrictions in place at school that a teenager will go to great lengths to circumvent any system that sufficiently annoys them.

    My $0.02,
    The Seekerr
  • Re:No limits (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @07:43AM (#16119794) Journal
    Why not provide booze and hookers - after all, at 14, he would probably just find those things on his own anyway.

    No hookers, but I was allowed a glass of wine with a meal and during celebrations by the time I was fourteen. It doesn't seem to have affected me too badly; in general I drink less than my peers these days.

  • by tverbeek (457094) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @10:50AM (#16120357) Homepage
    I really wonder where I said or even intimated that a teenager would need a computer to masturbate.
    I think it was the part where you equated putting the computer in the living room with depriving him of a place to jerk off in private. Maybe that's not what you meant, but (as I said) you made it sound like that. And I went on to ridicule your bizarre claim that they need some kind of porn to look at, which you most certainly did make, and seem to be standing by. What - other than your own personal history and a bunch of pseudo-sociology - do you base this on?
    As far as your claim that teenagers had healthy sexual imaginations (a telltale sign of healthy sexual development) long before the internet and Playboy, I just don't even know how to respond to that.
    Try doing it by setting aside your apparent belief that the advances in women's position in modern society are thanks to porn. There's a myriad of factors that have contributed to this: medical advances reducing the need for perpetual pregnancy to ensure offspring, technology making housekeeping a less demanding job, the greater emphasis on intelligence - where women and men are equal - rather than strength as a job skill, and other changes in society. The notion that being able to view photos of women with really large breasts submissively offering their vaginas to the viewer is why modern men respect women more is... dubious, at best. Furthermore, you seem to be assuming that you are among the first generation or two of sexually-healthy human males, which is not only subjective hubris, but also highly implausible, given the fact that the species has been fluorishing for thousands of years.
    Oh and thank you for sharing with all of us how much fun you have had touching yourself in the dark. That was precious.
    The point of that was to shoot a hole in your "teenagers need porn" assumption with a counter-example to what I assume was your own experience. But go ahead and ignore the data if it doesn't fit your thesis. I don't think porn is harmful, but your assertion that it's necessary is utterly unfounded nonsense.

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