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Child Proofing Your Computer by Robert L. Seltman

Updated from an earlier article in Kinki Times May 1993

While my wife was still nursing our first child, a friend and her seven year old son came to visit. As was my habit from pre-kid days, my computer was on in the living room. The friend innocently asked my wife, if it would be alright, if her son could play with the computer. My wife in maternal generosity said OK. This boy, though never having seen a Macintosh before, managed to completely empty my desk-top of any recognizable icons, including my morning work, within seconds.

Discovering what had happen, I did what any good meaning new father might do. I screamed and threw a tantrum, perhaps traumatizing the poor kid for the rest of his life. Soon after the mother and child sheepishly slipped out the door, I did manage to get everything back. Computing fathers soon master 'self-defensive computing,' a path we must follow for the rest of our parenting life.

The more you use your computer the more your kids will want to do the same. No table is high enough. You can put all the hardware in one room and put a lock on the door, but when you go to answer the bell, make a cup of coffee, or take a wee your kids will be in that room in a flash. Jamming toys in the floppy drive, sticky fingering the keys, coloring the monitor, and erasing the names of your files, nothing is too evil nor beyond their imagination.

The first thing to consider is a screen saver that includes a password. A few minutes after I stop typing my After Dark screen saver kicks in, and when I return I need to punch out my password (one complex enough that the kids can’t guess it by accident, but simple enough for me to remember). If my kids attack while I am away, they can’t get to my work. The next thing is to try and remember to keep the plastic skin-cover on the keyboard, as infants always have sticky fingers and leaky bottles. Keep the mouse in a pocket out of reach, as babes like to pound, yank, and drool. Put floppy disks way out of reach. You can also purchase a lock for your floppy disk drive slot. I make it a habit to check the slot visually for any tell tale signs of abuse. I still remember the melted rubber frog in my VCR.

Kids should be introduced to correct computer use. A mouse is manageable from about 3 years old, though, if you are there to help, any age can respond to a good child’s program. Apple created the program At Ease to hides the finder on start-up and allows access only to software or files you choose beforehand. There are now a variety of child safe go-betweens, to stop access to your precious files. If my child strays with the mouse anywhere on my 19" monitor, it will not give her access to any other file. My daughter likes Kid Pix, The Playroom, PicottHouse, and Kid Notes and together they can keep her entertained for hours. Trouble is, she wants to use the computer all the time, particularly when I’m using it. At this very moment she is in tears because I won’t let her play.

The computer can be a baby-sitter when you have guests. The older the child the more time they can spend on the computer. In fact it runs neck to neck with TV for killing precious home work time. If you sometimes have kids of different ages visiting, you can set up different selections of software for different age groups. Older kids, five on up, will stay out of your hair for hours with a variety of shareware games. They always love when I print out art work they have created on the Mac. Each and every child will amaze you at how fast they can master a program or game. Don't feel too guilty, after all, the computer is an excellent learning tool. My three year old daughter practices her numbers, alphabet, and telling time gleefully with the picture sound program Playroom..

Two suggestings. First, if you intend to have both children and a computer, get a better paying job. Second, expect the unexpected, kids thrive on surprising mom and dad.

Copyright©1993 R.L.Seltman. All rights reserved.

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