2013-11-15 / Columnists

Your Life And Privacy

Is Your Child Ready?
By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US

According to a statement released last month by the American Academy of Pediatrics, children’s use of media, including the Internet, TV, computer and video games, contributes to obesity, lack of sleep, and problems in school, to name just a few. So why do many schools, like my son’s middle school, provide laptops and tablets to children?

Technology can be used across subjects like math, science, history and English to solve problems, dissect sentences, write papers and take quizzes and tests. Teachers’ lessons and notes can be sent to children’s computers. Children can easily collaborate using their devices.

Many schools allow computers to be taken home daily, with the expectation that children do their schoolwork online. Often children, mine included, do their homework in their bedrooms. Yet online safety advocates, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Division, continue to urge parents to keep computers with Internet accessibility in a common room, and not in a child’s bedroom.

Having online access, especially in a secluded environment, renders a child vulnerable to exploitation by Internet predators. Requiring hard-working parents to police their kids, non-stop, is unreasonable. So is expecting a child to do schoolwork in a busy common room when a quiet setting would better serve her concentration.

Furthermore, Internet safety issues aside, computers in and out of schools present a huge distractibility factor. An immature child may not be able to resist the temptations that watching TV and movies, playing video games, and interacting on social media present, both in and out of school.

It is true that being successful in life requires us to learn how to compartmentalize entertainment and work. Even the youngest child must learn when to stop watching cartoons. I am not certain, however, that a child -- my middle school son included -- just developing concentration skills and study habits should, at the same time, have to deal with the strong entertainment temptation that doing schoolwork on an omnipresent computer presents.

Certain children are more mature than others and thus better able to handle the responsibility of using a computer for school. But while tracking children based upon their maturity levels and providing computers only to those deemed capable of handling the challenges could be explored, this presents issues of unequal access to resources.

There are many other issues that the use of computers presents.

We want our children to know how to use the latest technology to be competitive in our technology-driven world. Schools, however, must step up and educate children on a profound level about issues they will encounter online, such as those relating to online privacy, safety, digital rights, and cyber bullying. Having children sign a one- or twopage “Statement of Good ‘Netizenship,” perhaps read aloud in class, does not suffice.

Learning to use technology is important, but so is learning how to think in a safe, non-distracting environment.

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