Over the last few weeks, my oldest daughter, who is almost 4, has learned how to use the computer. She watches videos, she plays games, she even prints stuff out! Instead of asking me to play the same video over and over, she now knows how to use the mouse and do it herself. These newfound computer skills are exciting, but they fill me with trepidation as well.
It's weird, for one thing. How is the 7 lb 5 oz baby that I gave birth to already using the computer? I can't believe she's this big, lanky kid already, kneeling in the computer chair with her hand on the mouse, deftly navigating around and doing what she wants.
It started with YouTube. I loaded a video up for her one day and walked a few feet away to do the laundry. Suddenly I heard new videos starting. She picked through all the related videos and branched out from there, finding video after video to watch. At 3, she is already clueing me in to dumb internet memes to which I had been oblivious, such as the Nyan Cat (above) or the equally earworm-forming Funny Bear. This was fun for a few days, until one day after making breakfast, I walked down the hall and saw her watching one of the appallingly violent, unfunny (to me, anyway) Happy Tree Friends cartoons. I ran down the hallway doing the cinematic, slow-motion "Noooooooooooooo!" and thankfully stopped the video before anything terrible happened. Whew.
I thought to myself, "How is this happening already?" I did not expect to have to worry about the dangers of the internet or having to play internet police already, when my kid hasn't even turned four yet.
I decided to keep her off of YouTube by leaving Nick Jr. or Sprout Online up for her to play with. These sites have fun, educational games and videos related to her favorite TV shows, and are blissfully free of objectionable content. This strategy has kept her almost completely off of YouTube, except for the time she got into our bookmarks and started watching "I'm on a Boat." I found the idea of her watching that FAR less mortifying than Happy Tree Friends, however.
When my parents brought home our first computer, a Commodore 64, when I was 6, they didn't have to worry about any of this. There weren't any games, but my dad wrote one for me called "Sara Math," to help me with my already ailing math skills. The only problem he had was underestimating my subversiveness and making the game say "STINKO!" when I got an answer wrong. I found this so funny, I would deliberately get answers wrong to make the computer say "STINKO!" My mathematical education never recovered.
That's the worst damage I could do, though. There was no internet, no violent or moronic videos or games, no internet predators. They had a whole lot less to worry about back then.
As filled as I am with trepidation and as confused as I am about the best way to keep objectionable content away from my daughter, I am very excited for her to already be developing computer skills. It's very good for her to already know how to use a mouse, how to turn on the printer and print something out. She's already acquiring skills that will be essential in her life. As freaked out as I am about the negative aspects of her newfound skills, I am also really happy that this whole world has opened to her already. Computers have given me loads of enjoyment, have helped considerably with my education (barring that "Sara Math" episode...), have given me a career (full-time until two years ago, part-time from home now), and they even helped get me a husband (I met him on JDate!).
As much as computers create problems, they also create a lot of opportunity and wonder. I'm going to focus on that aspect, while I continue to work on toddler-proofing our computer and making it as safe as possible for our children to enjoy.