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Getting Started Step by Step

Some Basic Rules

For most parents who are just starting with computers, there's a simple rule: concentrate on experiencing the new technologies — not necessarily understanding them. You don't need to understand electronics to get cash from an automatic teller machine. You don't have to be able to build a car to drive one. You don't need to understand all that makes up a computer to see how your child will use one.

A quick trip to an electronics store, a public library, or an Urban League office can introduce you to computers, a wide variety of software, CD-ROMs, and online networks. People here are used to working with beginners. Once you begin to experience cyberspace, as the online world is called, it gets much easier to navigate.

Do Your Homework

Learning and playing with new technology can be integrated into your everyday life. When you go to the mall, spend ten minutes with the computer display in the toy store or electronics store. Ask your school to set up a parent night or weekend so parents can see and learn. Ask teachers or librarians where in your community you can go to use a computer connected to the Internet.

Learn With Your Child

Computers can offer one of the best, most fun, and most challenging journeys that parents and children can share. Remember, studies show parental involvement is an important ingredient for educational success. Your goal is to learn and experience as much as possible with your child-and make it enjoyable.

Be a Good Guide and Monitor

Your job (just like in other areas) is to explain, guide, make the rules and enforce them, and keep the whole thing focused on positive learning and fun. One of the best things about this new frontier is that it gives you rich, new opportunities to learn and play together with your child. Here are some tips:

Side by Side:

You can help your child have a positive and balanced experience with the computer. The best approach is to start the process together. Set aside a regular time to work on the computer with your child. If he or she has had computer experience, let your child take the lead. It can be a great boost for self-confidence — at least for your child! Ask your child to explain what he or she is doing and why. Go down the highway — together.

Talk with your child about what students are doing on computers at school, whether you have one at home or not. Ask to see what they have created on the computer. And invite friends — yours or your child’s — to join in, too.

The Time Factor:

Since you and your child are already strapped for time, perhaps the first place to look is television time. Family, friends, homework, school, and outside play are all very important for the healthy development of children, so try to shift TV time to computer time. (This shouldn't be that hard: studies show that children who use computers watch less TV.)6

Monitor Computer Time:

Keep the computer in a family area rather than in a child's room — at least to begin with. Keep an eye on the clock, and watch the phone and credit card bills (that's where charges for commercial online services or purchases show up). Check in regularly on what your child is doing.

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