Do you ever wonder how your kids can waste hours browsing the Internet, checking Facebook and religiously watering their crops on Farmville? They might be addicted to their computer.
Internet addiction is a growing problem that can seriously harm your kids. When researchers at the University of Maryland asked college students to refrain from using the Internet and other social media for 24 hours, the students began to show withdrawal signs similar to those experienced by people who try to quit smoking.
This isn’t news to computer programmers. They have been trying to make their games as addictive as possible, ever since the pill-popping days of Pacman. One of the best ways to do that is to include randomness. Much like gambling, not being sure if you are going to win increases the addictiveness of the game.
For example in the online game World of Warcraft, every time you defeat your enemy there is a small chance that you will find the most powerful item in the game. You probably won’t, but that chance (however small) reinforces addictive behavior. And if your kids do manage to get ahold of that item, they will believe it to be every bit as significant as something they worked hard for in real life. Other Internet users will praise them for this “accomplishment” and this social praise is especially dangerous because it can make the online world more appealing than the real one.
If you notice that your kids are exhibiting any of these behaviors, you might want to get involved:
- Do your kids get cranky when you ask them to stop using the computer?
- When you get back from running an errand, do they head straight for the computer?
- Do your kids fight over who gets to use the computer?
- Do your kids use the computer immediately before bedtime?
- Do they seem withdrawn from the world?
The good news here is that you’re in charge. There’s a bunch of ways to control your child’s’ Internet use without sending them back to the stone-age. If you have a basic knowledge of computers, you can do all sorts of things to stop your kids from abusing the Internet and online-games.
One of the best ways to do this is by installing a program called TimesUpKidz, which lets you control exactly when a computer can be used. Don’t want your kids using it before bed? Set your computer not to let them log-in after 9 p.m. Don’t want them to fight over a computer? Assign them each an hour. If they don’t log off, it kicks them off automatically.
You’d be surprised how quickly they find something else to do, like read a book or go outside.
If you happen to have a kid who is super-tech savvy, they may try to find a way around it. The only way to “hack” this program – and that is to change the internal clock on the BIOS, which is the most fundamental program of the computer. To protect it, just add a password to your BIOS (or ask someone who knows a thing or two about computers to do it for you).
Just make sure you don’t forget it. I’m serious, DON’T LOSE THAT PASSWORD. And if your young son or daughter somehow gets around the password, without destroying the computer, don’t worry. They might just have a career waiting for them at the Pentagon.