In less than two decades, home computers have become a necessary part of life for most people. In the twenty-first century, computer literacy is as important as reading itself. We all remember how daunting the computer seemed, the first time we clicked a mouse. Most parents of young children today touched their first computer as teens, and have no first-hand experience regarding the right age at which to begin training their own children in computer usage. But a parent can't help feeling a certain pride, watching a three-year-old navigate a game program.

We want our kids to have every advantage possible, and the computer is certainly the most comprehensive educational tool available, today. At the same time, we have to ask ourselves-how young is too young?

Unfortunately, behavioral scientific studies take years to complete, and so far, there's no concensus among experts about the computer's effect on young children. However, many organizations do provide some common-sense guidelines for parents.

According to, many researchers discourage computer use before the age of three: "Computers simply do not match their learning style". Children under three learn about the world through their senses-taste, touch, sight and sound-and it's difficult for them to focus attention for any length of time. There are game programs available for kids as young as two, which concentrate on cause-and-effect actions; when the mouse is moved and clicked at a certain point, a noise occurs or a picture appears. However, a child slapping the bathwater, to make a noise and a splash, can be just as developmentally valuable, if not more so, because it involves more of a complete sensory experience.

Most experts agree that, by the age of three or four, kids are ready to begin exploring the computer, as long as they are supervised by parents or caregivers. According to, the ability to control technology can be a valuable lesson at this age. As well, computer games for preschoolers can offer valuable lessons in counting, spelling, and classification.

What parents must guard against is using the computer as the only surrogate teacher. Some seminal studies have shown that a fairly sizable percentage of today's high-school students, who grew up dependent on computers, feel uncomfortable with the "mechanics" of arithmetic (two things plus two things actually make four things) and spelling (without spell-check).

Parents must also weigh the physical effects of computer use. Obviously, the child accustomed to achieving entertainment and amusement solely through the computer is less active than the child who can derive pleasure from physical activity. If a child's computer experience isn't monitored for correct ergonomics, poor posture can develop, early, and be difficult to correct, later.

Eyestrain is also an important consideration about which parents must be vigilant. Twenty minutes to a half-hour in front of a computer monitor is probably as much time as children should spend, without a break.

And, of course, internet usage should be closely monitored by parents at all times.

Computers will continue to advance, even in ways we still haven't begun to fathom. With careful training, at an early age, our children can live lives enhanced by computers, rather than dominated by them.

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