KIDS WILL BE KIDS : FAMILIES WITH NEW PCS VENTURE BOLDLY, AND TIMIDLY, INTO NEW ERA OF FINDING SENSIBLE LIMITS FOR USE BY YOUNGSTERS.
Less than a month after James and Lin Dubois bought a computer, they came downstairs on a sunny Sunday morning to find that their 14-year-old son, Christopher, had been up half the night playing games.
``He woke up and his eyes were all bloodshot,'' James Dubois recalled.
Dismayed by this unintended consequence of their purchase, the Simi Valley couple set time restraints on computer use for Christopher and his 10-year-old sister, Jackie. They discussed with both children the importance of making academics a priority in their use of the computer, and they decided to circumvent any problems stemming from the on-line universe by not subscribing to any commercial or Internet service.
``My idea of censorship is to turn it (the machine) off,'' Dubois added.
David and Sandra Cohen of Agoura Hills lived to regret their decision to let their 16-year-old son explore America Online with a 10-hour trial account.
``It was a disaster,'' Sandra Cohen said. ``He was on it every day for six hours a day.''
When the Cohens clamped down on their son's computer use, he simply brought over friends who logged onto their own accounts.
``They're not even doing anything intelligent,'' Sandra Cohen said. ``They're just talking to friends - silly stuff. . . . We finally cut it off completely.''
Not every parent encountered outside a Woodland Hills computer store on a recent Sunday afternoon had a tale of woe relating to their kids and the family PC. But as more and more families buy computers at least partly for the sake of the kids, parents across the country are dealing with a new set of problems that accompany the benefits of high technology.
The American Learning Household Survey, funded by more than 20 technology, media and educational publishing companies, found that 80 percent of families who were planning to buy a PC cited children's education as the primary reason for the purchase, compared with 40 percent who listed home-office and personal-finance uses.
The study, conducted last year by FIND/SVP in conjunction with Santa Barbara-based Grunwald Associates and C+C Data, found that 39 percent of families with children under 18, or about 13.2 million households, owned a home computer in 1995, up from 37 percent a year earlier. Of those PC-equipped households, 47 percent or 6.1 million also had CD-ROM drives.
Parents in three-quarters of the multimedia PC-equipped households reported that their children were watching less TV as a direct result of PC use.
One interesting finding was that while 7.1 million PCs in family households were equipped with modems - more than had CD-ROM drives - many of these homes had not signed up for an on-line service or Internet access.
Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates, said that while parents did have some reservations about letting their children go on line, it wasn't necessarily because they feared exposure to pornography or child molesters.
``Parents were really more concerned, ultimately, about just what value they were getting for their money,'' Grunwald said.
``There may be some changes in level of concern because of all the publicity about indecency on the Net, but the reality is that it's no different than any other medium. You have creative, interesting, community-building things and then you have the wackos.''
Fears about what Grunwald referred to as the ``Pandora's box'' of the on-line universe are the most publicized family PC issue. Others include disputes over who gets to use the computer, whether games are excessively violent, and excessive game playing.
In the last year or two, several software packages have been developed to help parents deal with problems relating to children's use of the family PC.
At least one, Time's Up, was the result of a parent's alarm. Attorney Rich Katz of South Miami, Fla., had an experience similar to the Dubois family's soon after he bought a multimedia computer.
``I woke up at 3 a.m. and found my 14-year-old daughter playing games on the computer on a school night,'' Katz recalled.
Within a few weeks Katz had recruited a pair of programmers to develop software that would prevent a child from using a computer at certain hours and restrict use of selected software - games or on-line services, for example - either by time of day or length of time.
In addition to access control programs such as Time's Up or Edmark's KidDesk, there are several programs designed to cut off a child's access to Internet sites containing adult material.
While software can be a useful tool in regulating use of the computer, however, most experts agree that it cannot replace good old-fashioned parenting.
``I really do feel that parents should exert more control than they do, but they don't. Given the lack of parental control generally, I'd say yes, this is going to help those who want to control their kids,'' said Fred Knirk, professor of educational psychology and technology at the University of Southern California.
However, Knirk added: ``I think it's a real poor second to having a parent (who) communicates with kids as to why they should do certain things.''
Dan Muse, editor of Family PC magazine, said his publication has been writing about parent-child computer issues since its inception a few years ago.
Family PC's specific recommendations include some basic ground rules for going on-line - for example, ``Don't give your real name or telephone number to strangers'' - and also a few suggestions for preventing off-line problems.
In a home with many users and one computer, Family PC recommends posting a sign-up sheet. Extra time on the PC can be an effective incentive to get a child to do chores or study.
``Our advice is pretty simple: Just be good parents,'' Muse said.
Andrew H. Mansman of Simi Valley, whose 7- and 4-year-old boys are already starting to use the family's computer for simple educational titles, said he does not like the idea of parental-control software.
``Parents should have control; it's as simple as that. Maybe parents could become parents, as opposed to outside packages or people,'' he said.
2 Photos, Chart
Photo: (1--Color) Lin Dubois, left, and her husba nd James, right, restrict the time their daughter, Jackie, and son, Christopher, spend with the family's computer.
(2--Color) James Dubois watches his son, Christopher, 14, use the personal computer in their home in Simi Valley.
Photo illustration by Evan Yee/Daily News
Chart: (Color) Family Computers
% of households with children under 18
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Apr 22, 1996|
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