When to Let Your Child Have a Computer

Desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones have become an intrinsic and unavoidable part of our everyday lives.

According to key findings from UNICEF’s “Safe Internet For The Whole Family” project, most children use digital devices at age four, and more than half of primary school children own a digital device. The most commonly used device for these youngsters is first a smartphone followed by a tablet computer. 

Like the respondents in the study, you are likely conflicted regarding when you should let your child have their first digital device, especially a computer.

When Are Computers Age-Appropriate For a Child? 

Desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones have become an intrinsic and unavoidable part of our everyday lives. So it’s not surprising when a child asks for their own digital device, but when is it appropriate for a child to have a computer?

Your child’s digital footprint begins the day you post photos of their childhood firsts online for family members. It begins when they interact with a TV show or educational game on a tablet. Thankfully, most devices made for these young ages come equipped with excellent parental controls that allow for safety monitoring and restriction of inappropriate content.

In moderation, technology allows children to learn new skills at their own pace while developing social and behavioral skills. By first or second grade, children interact with computers as supervised by their teacher. From this point on, computers shift from educational to social usage as their peers share lessons, games, and ideas. 

By the time children enter middle school and high school, they will use computers to complete complicated homework assignments and network socially with their peers. It’s a good time to reiterate the permanence of posting content on social media. If they wouldn’t want a photo or message displayed on the big screens of Times Square, then it’s best to keep that content to themselves.

Given these factors, digital devices are age-appropriate depending on the stage of development of your child. As your child becomes a teenager, consider letting them have a computer to complete more in-depth homework and explore the world and their autonomy.

Safe Computer Usage Guidelines For Families 

Children begin regular use of computers in school, so it makes sense for first and second graders to have computer access for learning games and conducting other safe activities. However, a computer is a family resource at this age. Any computer purchased, with young children in the house, should go in a central location with proper parental controls in place.
According to Common Sense Media, a technology safety advocacy nonprofit, high school is where things become more complicated. Your child has formed their own network of personal relationships; they are engaged in extracurricular activities; they are likely working part-time and may have a high school sweetheart. Common Sense Media shares that parents should find the balance between supportive supervision and letting your teenager have their own digital space.

To build trust, parents may feel more comfortable starting with a more traditional approach by investing in a desktop system fixed in a central location. Remain within earshot but do not hover over your child. A 2013 study by McAfee Online Safety for Kids found that 50% of cyberbullied children never tell their parents, so a centrally located computer may be the best option for concerned families.  

Some parents may feel fine with letting their teenager have their own laptop from the start, and every family is unique. Reward excellent grades and positive behavior by giving your child their own laptop, with the caveat that they use it when their bedroom door is open. Gradually, the reins can loosen. Parents may also restrict Wi-Fi availability to ensure everyone is getting a good night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

Parents must model responsible computer usage. Children are more likely to mirror model behavior and respect computer rules when their parents lead by example, limiting usage and conducting positive tasks such as budgeting.

What do social norms say? A survey of 1,000 parents by PCMag, found that laptops skew older as teenagers are more needful of their own laptop to complete homework: 41% of parents believed that 12 to 15 were the most appropriate ages to give a child their own laptop. 

Still, parents have the final say, and the needs of every family and each child are unique. Do what you know is best for your family.


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