Kids online

December 21st, 2006

Not long ago, Françesca enjoyed typing random letters into a text editor for about ten minutes a day. Now that she is nearing five years old, that doesn’t satisfy her any longer. She learned how to use the mouse, and she’s beginning to understand how to use the Safari web browser. She can spend an hour on-line without a break.What to do? This is the point where Hanneke and I have a choice. We can take the computer away and have our kids grow up in a “traditional” pre-internet household. Or we can let them go online and accept the consequences.

I am of two minds about this. One view is that the kids should be able to grow up in an internet-free home, the way we grew up. The opposing view is that the kids should go online because the internet is part of the world we live in — keeping the kids away from it would be like refusing to let them learn to read or write.

I am torn between these two views, but I am leaning toward letting her go online because:

  1. Our kids will come into contact with the internet no matter what we do.
  2. By guiding her internet use at home, we can help Fran find and be involved in the positive things on the internet; for example, looking at artwork by other children her age.
  3. The internet is intensely stimulating, of course. My response is that we need to make our “off-line” home environment even more fun, more stimulating, so that the internet is not such a magnet for the kids.

Anyone else out there with similar problems / opportunities?

. . .

25 Responses to “Kids online”

  1. Steve Says:

    When our kides were growing up we always let them climb on trees, rocks, etc., With guidance if necessary. They learned their own limits. Some other parents were astonished. They are constantly afraid of what their kids might try to climb. If they ever do climb mountains, they’ll be at high risk. But most likely they’ll never try.

    Your three points are all good; I think you’ve already made the right choice.

  2. Tracy Says:

    Our kids have recently been completely drawn into the internet. They always want to use my computer or my husband’s. We are getting them their own computer for Christmas, plus a timer. They’ll get one hour a day (each) at most. We restrict their “screen time” and some days are no computer time at all. They get no tv during the week, they don’t have nintendo and it is restricted on the weekends. They mostly play computer games, but my son does a lot of research on it for

    They still much prefer doing art projects-and we do a lot of that of course. I view the internet as just another activity for them to do, although we are keeping a close rein on it for now.

    I’d like to add that I was adamantly opposed to letting them do computer activities when they were toddlers. I wanted them to learn about the world through reality, not through the computer screen, and I am glad we held off on the computer for so long.

  3. Lisa Says:

    Steve – your story reminds me of my son (age 14) this summer. He’s learned how to walk up walls (from the internet of course) – so while on a hike this summer he went running up the side of a free standing rock about 15 feet high. With a few well place hand grips he ended up on top.

    And then spent a half hour trying to figure out how to get down. I’m not convinced he’s learned his limits yet.

    Karl – I’ve found that as my kids get older this decision has had to be revisited several times.

    Are you familiar with the studies on inattentional blindness? Kids that spend time on computers playing games seem to have less of a problem noticing these things than adults. Some claim that ability to process these things is going to be expected for the new generation and so they feel not allowing kids to play on the computer actually hurts them as they won’t be able to process the expected information.

    This link doesn’t actually take you to that info but it’s a starting place.

  4. Steve Says:

    Nice story about your son. I bet that was a very useful learning experience — whatever the result. And you know you’re doing something right when your kid is not shy or embarrassed or afraid to try something difficult and maybe scary with you there.

  5. Lisa Says:

    Thanks Steve. I’m sure he learned something also but I’m not sure what!

    I send my kids to a school based on Outward Bound philosophies. So they are encouraged to push themselves beyond their comfort level in everything – including academics.

    I wrote a bit more about it on my blog here:

    Amazing school.

  6. David Says:

    I don’t have any kids, but I do remember being one. My inclination would be to let them experience the internet freely, as well as all other parts of the modern world, but to set up an appropriate balance with physical-world activities. Seems like it should be heavily weighted toward non-computer stuff. They likely be spending more than enough time sitting at a keyboard when they get older.

  7. Brenda Harness Says:

    When our first grandchild was 3 months old, my husband who is a programmer/analyst, started acquainting her with computers by simply holding her on his lap as he worked. Before she was two, she was working the mouse herself much to my astonishment. He spent countless hours joyfully entertaining and educating her on the computer.

    So, he put together a computer for her to use at home and loaded it up with every pre-school computer program imaginable. She lived with her parents, but spent a great deal of time with us on weekends.

    One day, I went to visit at her home and asked my daughter if I could sit at the computer and work with Julie. I was absolutely astounded to hear that the child wasn’t allowed to touch the computer ever again because she had learned to hit the off switch. I suggested that they put a piece of tape over it, but eventually came to learn that the parents had taken over the computer for their own selfish reasons, email and internet. That would have been ok with us if they had continued to sit with her and work with her on it, but they didn’t.

    We continued to work with her at our house, and she’s 8 now and the teachers say she is quite proficient. They also have her in classes for subnormal kids. I’ve raised 2 bright kids, and I do know the difference. She’s as bright as they come. she’s just got parents who are too selfish to work with her, and a turbulent home environment.

    We haven’t taught her how to log on to the internet, but we supervise her activities on internet sites at our home which we feel are educational and appropriate for children.

    We feel that what computer skills she’s gotten are due entirely to our own efforts. It shouldn’t be that way. Computers and the internet can open up a whole world of knowledge for this child who obviously has parents who’d rather watch TV and play Nintendo than take part in the wonder of watching her learn.

    In my opinion, computers are too valuable as a learning resource to not allow one in a child’s life. Kids can absorb as much as you can throw at them, or sadly, as little as you allow them to have.

  8. Rex Crockett Says:

    I’m not even vaguely qualified to answer the main questions on this post, but I do register my site with the various software companies that do filtering for adult content.

    Some responibility on the part of content providers has to be part of any solution for creating a safe online environment for kids.

  9. Lisa Says:

    Brenda – sad story.

    Computers literacy is a must these days.

    It’s been interesting watching my son do research for school papers. We used to go to the library and look things up in the card catalog and read books and magazines and take notes.

    My son just has to figure out the right phrase for google to find the info and he’s got everything he needs. And he complains if he can’t figure out the right combination of words to get him to the info he is sure is out there.

    I told him I was going to take him to the library so he could learn to use a card catalog. Then I remembered they don’t have card catalogs anymore – they have computers.

  10. Rex Crockett Says:

    Important addendum:

    Anyone wishing to register an adult oriented site may so so at the Internet Content Rating Association website.

  11. Karl Zipser Says:

    This might seem like an odd post for Art & Perception. The initial idea was to show some of Fran’s work online and discuss children’s art and how children could benefit from looking at the work of other children online. I scanned several of Fran’s drawings and we had a lot of fun looking at them together. She selected her favorite ones. Then I explained to her that if she wanted to, she could show these drawings to the whole world. It took a little while to explain this. When she understood, she said, “No, I only want people in my class at school to look at the drawings.”

  12. June Says:


    Because I’m still feeling my way through this group of people, I didn’t mention that the post on children and computers seemed oddly out of place. But your post explaining the intial idea makes more sense.

    My granddaughter, who is a computer junkie, is also interested in slow art. She and I have done art workshops for as many summers as I can remember, so we have lots of her artwork around the house. She loved having it shown publicly, until she reached her teens. Suddenly showing anything about her or even mentioning her became forbidden. Not untypical for a teenager, I suspect.

    So, as someone said, you’ll be revisiting whatever decision you make about your child a number of times before you release her into the world. And I think that not allowing a computer into a child’s life at home is much like making them use a horse to get to the nearest Safeway — somewhat inefficient and perhaps unsafe.

    Lisa, I’m wondering if “inattentional blindness” is what causes me to lose my way on websites. I have to talk myself through various menus, particularly as there aren’t standard formats, and even then I can miss the most obvious links. I will return to the link you’ve given and check out the research on the web.

  13. Leslie Holt Says:

    Fran sounds really precious!

    My students are afraid of libraries and feel they do not have to step into one because it is all at their fingertips on the web. That gets under my skin because they look at all the art on the web, which is not true version, and often worse than book reporductions, depending on the book. And it just seems lazy. They also tend to think I won’t find some of their sources for some reason… as if I can’t use google as well! I recently met an Art History professor who has stopped giving papers because he has had too much plagiarism. That is a crying shame to not have students write. But I have a whole plagiarism lecture now.

    I also wonder about the instantaneous way images come shooting at us and what it does to attention span and our ability to slow down and look at a real live piece of art. I feel like I have to grab my students’ attention so much of the time and make them really look. Ok, I am coming off a bad semester with less than enthusiastic students – that is discoloring my thoughts here…

    So , yes computer literacy is very important, no doubt. But make sure they go outside and play and make stuff up that is not handed to them. And make sure they feel comfortable in a library! I don’t doubt that you will!

  14. June Says:


    I think the inability or refusal to look long and close is the biggest hindrance to acceptance and comprehension of art. I don’t attribute it necessarily to the internet (it isn’t a recent phenomenon) but I do think that the best art appreciation training is training in how to look at the various attributes and strategies and ideas that every serious work of art contains.

    A portrait painter from the 1920’s once snorted that some people think their eyes are useful only to keep from running into things.

    When I see a piece of art that doesn’t appeal to me, but seems to appeal to others, I often force myself to analyze it using a formalistic approach — line, shape, value, etc. I do this not because of the content of the analysis, but because the very act of analyzing slows me down and forces me to examine and question and look again.

  15. Lisa Says:

    June – you might have problems on some websites because they are just really poorly designed also!

    Leslie – I agree – and so does my kids school – they take them to the library and force them to do a bit of traditional research from time to time also. Although it is sad to hear that one of your colleagues gave up assigning papers.

    Karl – does Fran enjoy looking at the art of other children on the computer? Maybe she needs a blog when she’s ready to share her talent. When my daughter was about 7 or 8 she had a blog for her poems – hm – I wonder what happened to that.

  16. Arthur Whitman Says:

    here is a kid’s drawing blog. (I tried posting this earlier but it didn’t work for some reason.)

  17. Karl Zipser Says:

    Hey Arthur,

    Thanks for the link. I’ll show this to Fran when she gets home from school today.


    The idea of getting Fran interested in other kids’ art online is a new one for us. This link from Arthur is a great place to start.

  18. Ron Diorio Says:

    Last night I was elected to our local school’s leadership team. My particular interest is in media literacy for parents and children. I think things are moving too fast not to engage the conversation right now. I don’t see any benefit in denying the computer or the internet to the children however it is always supervised.

  19. Karl Zipser Says:


    The pace of technological change poses a problem for schools, if they choose to see it that way. Or an opportunity. When I was in high school in the 1980’s, our creative writing teacher made us keep a daily diary. If I were teaching the class today, I would strongly consider having the students maintain daily blogs. But this would require some technical support. If a school sees this as a good option, they have to be know what a blog is and how to use it for educational purposes. Can schools keep up with the changes? Should they?

  20. Karl Zipser Says:

    At Hanneke’s suggestion I added a drawing by Hanneke’s older daughter, who was the same age as Fran when she made this (she is past her teens now).

  21. Lisa Says:

    That was my next question Karl – where to find kid art on line. Thanks for the link Arthur.

    Karl – let us know what she thinks. Do kids like looking or would they rather just do?

    The problems I see in the public schools (ie little money) in Denver are that the equipment can not keep up with the technology. My kids school has 4 year old machines running linux. This is likely to disqualify them from a very cool program my ex-husband recently got funded.

    The idea is to use computer game creation to teach kids math, art and computer science in high schools. The program will track the kids exposed to this program through college.

    But if the equipment won’t run the software the schools can’t really participate. Which would be a bummer as my son’s teachers are pretty excited about the idea of incorporating game creation into the curriculum.

  22. Arthur Whitman Says:


    Are those supposed to be dinosaurs?

  23. John Says:

    I don’t have any kids, and wouldn’t know which way to turn, but I would like to say I absolutely love that picture!!!!

  24. lisa Says:

    I think it’s a dinosaur eating a jellyfish. The other day my son tried to tell me jellyfish have no natural predators – clearly he’s wrong – and here’s the proof.

  25. Karl Zipser Says:

    Fran found it neat to see her sister’s drawing online. She is warming to the idea of showing her work on the web, she is beginning to understand the concept of the web. I think the key to helping her understand is for her to look at the drawing from anther computer, maybe in the library. I would prefer if she knew what she was getting into before she puts work online, as much as I would like to show it now.

    I searched for some children’s art sites and Fran and I looked at them together. Her first question was always, “How old is that kid?” I have heard that children always ask this.

    Hanneke’s older daughter is not my daughter. I have no idea exactly what the drawing is of. I doubt she remembers herself. I like the drawing very much. Françesca says, “I find it a little bit beautiful. What is that, a crocodile? A crocodile doesn’t have such long legs. A crocodile doesn’t have only two legs, it has four legs.” The other thing is “a baby crocodile,” according to her.