Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Webkins and Neopets: How Can Parents Limit Computer Time?









They seem harmless. A fluffy pink rabbit and a spotted plush cow. If you are a parent of anyone under the age of ten, you know about Webkins. These adorable creatures - hundreds of them - come with a printed tag and code that unlocks a computer world designed just for kids. Each time they buy a physical plush toy, the code unlocks a virtual pet. The web-site - some of it educational and much of it just for fun - teaches kids about saving and buying and caring for a pet. It also creates a desire for more pets and more points - thus more computer time.

When my daughter moved past Webkins - she moved into Neopets (with a few other sites in between). Neopets is a larger site - also with accompanying real-life collectible items. On Neopets, you own one to four virtual pets that you need to feed and care for. The site is filled with games and battles and strategy. It has a chat option for those over thirteen. My daughter was instantly hooked. She loves Neopets.

We do not battle over too much tv time in our house - we battle over computer time. Especially in the summer, with no school to distract her, I find that limiting computer time - especially from these very addictive, time-consuming sites, can be difficult.

Here are a few tips to pass on - maybe you can add some as well:

1) SET TIME LIMITS - Since she is in middle school, I suggest a time limit I think is appropriate - and we discussed it. We negotiated a bit to find a limit with which I felt comfortable. Some sites say 30 minutes a day. In the summer, that seems a bit too stringent for us. My daughter is an only child - and sometimes outdoor play is not really an option. So each family should set its own limits.

2) ENFORCE REWARDS/PENALTIES - I have offered rewards (in computer time) for volunteering to help out around the house or participating in physical activity. We tend to get out of the house more and go for walks (the dog loves it!).
3) GET ON THE COMPUTER YOURSELF - I join the same sites that  my daughter does. I am on Neopets - I learned what it is - I have an account. This allows me to see what she is doing and to appreciate the fun and dangers of the site. It also increases communication between us - I have learned to care about what she cares about.

4) MOVE THE COMPUTER - Don't allow the computer user to retreat into too private a spot. We moved our daughter's computer to the kitchen table. This allows us to casually glance at what she is doing and to monitor the time use.

5) ALLOW THE NOVELTY TO WEAR OFF - Finally - I've learned to allow some excessive time when a new game is purchased. This can happen with both adults and kids - we tend to be most desiring of a game or activity when it is new. With time, we often reduce time and enjoy it in much more moderation.

6) ENCOURAGE OTHER ACTIVITIES - I must admit that the computer and television and electronic gaming are a good thing for parents. They allow us to have some peace and quiet. They reduce the "I'm bored" comments. Be prepared to do more with your kids as you limit electronic media time. You might have to come up with a things to do list. One year we had a box that we put activity ideas in. We would draw one per day in the summer and do the activity together. Have them help you cook a meal or organize a closet. Cleaning out my daughter's closet also allows her to rediscover old toys.

Helping your kids set limits now will help them use media selectively as an adult!

Here is another helpful article:

http://familyinternet.about.com/od/introtofamilycomputing/a/growthchart_2.htm
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