Many young children have held more computing technology in the palm of their hands than most of us experienced in the first several decades of our existence. Computers are smaller, lighter, faster, and more ubiquitous than ever before and will play an ever increasing role in our children's lives, especially in their education.
In Part I we discussed computers role in the kindergarten and preschool classroom, as well as activities to help prepare children for computer time at school. However, in addition to pictures, fun, and games, computers can be an excellent way for children to communicate with friends and relatives.
E-mail, instant messaging, and video chat software can allow children to communicate with people across the street or across the globe. But young children should never communicate with anyone that mom or dad doesn't personally know and should probably not be chatting with anyone without parents nearby. While adolescent children can be at great risk from internet predators, young children are not immune to this threat. Even well-intentioned friends and family need to understand that adult supervision is necessary anytime young children communicate online.
In addition to using communication tools, children also require supervision when learning to browse or surf the internet for topics their interested in. It doesn't take long for children to figure out that they can find fun printable pictures of their favorite cartoon characters by just typing a few letters into a search engine. Unfortunately, without proper safeguards, even adults may be offended at some of the items that appear in the search results.
Most search engines offer a filter or "SafeSearch" feature that can be enabled on family computers to restrict inappropriate search results from appearing. In addition, computers can be equipped with monitoring and filtering software that can block a significant amount of offensive content from the internet. Products like Net Nanny and CyberPatrol provide parental controls that limit what children can view on the computer. However, for young children, software won't replace a watchful parent.
Since you can't watch your children all the time, it's worth investing time talking to your children when they are ready and teaching them about some of the dangers of the internet. The website www.NetSmartz.org provides online safety education and activities in a manner appropriate for each specific age group.
Obviously, the internet will be a tremendous tool in the lives of today's children. The sooner they can begin learning about computers and the online world in a safe and supportive manner, the more children will be able to properly use and apply this technology at home and at school.