Thursday, September 25, 2008

Help Kids Get More Out Of That New Computer This Holiday Season

(StatePoint) This holiday season will bring more than good cheer, as many parents will be buying new computers and other Internet-enabled gadgets for themselves and their children.

It's more important than ever for parents to keep track of how children are using this new technology. They need to make sure kids stay safe online and also learn to use technology for more than just video games and music downloads.

"The nation cannot speed down the information highway if parents aren't teaching kids how to use technology responsibly," said Sharon Darling, president & founder of the National Center for Family Literacy.

Unfortunately, many have no idea what their children are doing on their computers. According to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of software maker Symantec, parents in the U.S. think their kids are online two hours a month, but kids report spending 20 hours a month online. And, 41 percent of teens ages 13-17 agree that parents don't know what they are looking at online - from shopping sites to social networking services to more dangerous destinations.

"Today's generation of so-called digital natives need to be prepared for the future by their parents and their teachers -- many of whom are digital immigrants who need to quickly familiarize themselves with new technologies," said Darling.

To help parents learn more about technology, the NCFL teamed up with the Verizon Foundation to create "The Verizon Tech Savvy Awards," a national program designed to help parents learn to use technology to build kids' learning skills.

Here are some tips gleaned from this teamwork:

* Technology doesn't just happen on a computer! Take inventory of the technology your child comes in contact with at home, at school, and in the community. Encourage young kids to help you scan items at the supermarket. Ask your librarian to help you find books together on the electronic card catalogue. Show children how to type in the correct cooking time on the microwave.

* Show your work. When your child is doing research using the Internet, ask him to show you the sites he used. Review them together and talk about how your child knows the information is reliable and accurate. Can you tell who the author of the information is? What are the author's qualifications? Can you find the date the information was written or posted?

* What is your child doing when she blogs or uses peer-to-peer social networking sites? She's offering opinions on things that are important to her. To ensure healthy behavior, first teach your child safe Internet practices (visit Thinkfinity.org and search on "Internet Safety" for tips). Then, ask what she's writing about or ask to join her social networking "circle" so you can see when she updates her messages.

* Knowledge builds knowledge. Having background knowledge helps children as they're learning to read. An Internet search on a keyword that's of interest to your child -- dinosaurs, cars, fashion -- will get him or her started on a journey of discovery. If you use the free "Good Search" search engine at www.goodsearch.com, you can help raise money for nonprofit organizations like the NCFL.

"Parents and children must learn about technology together, so parents can be effective teachers to ensure their children are literate in technology and prepared for the 21st century workforce," said Verizon Foundation President Patrick Gaston.

Indeed, employment in professional, scientific and technical services will grow by 28.8 percent or 2.1 million new jobs by 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

For more tips from the NCFL on teaching kids to safely use technology to help build their skills, visit www.famlit.org.

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