How Much Longer?

By now, The Zone blogosphere is well aware of the ongoing dilemma about what to do with Wizard this summer and the problems with his attitude. By the time WineGuy decided that Wizard could, in fact, go away to camp, it was too late. There were no spaces (or time) left in the first camp session of the summer.

After Wizard sat home and watched television for an entire day — and did some of his summer homework — WineGuy offered to let Wizard work in WG’s office.* The billing and records manager (BRM) has an ongoing project that always needs students to scan charts and input data. Wizard worked a few days in the last ten and was very happy doing so. He was out of the house, working with adults, and most importantly, earning money. In fact, Wizard calculated exactly how many hours he would have to work in order to earn enough money to buy a laptop computer.

As Wizard figured it, he would work full-time for the remainder of the summer to earn all the money. But there were several problems with that plan: (a) BRM does not have enough office space to bring in all the boxes Wizard would need to keep him busy on a daily basis. He works fast, and the rest of the staff has to catch up. BRM could use him three half- to full-days a week; (b) Wizard is a kid and needs to learn how to get along better with kids his own age; (c) Wizard is a kid and should be doing fun things during a school vacation; and (d) Wizard never asked WineGuy or me for permission to have a laptop.

Which brings me to the crux of this post: At what age should a child have his own computer? At what age is it OK for a child to have unfettered, 24/7 access to the Internet?

WineGuy and I do not think that age is 12. Wizard vehemently disagrees. Wizard thinks he needs his own computer to use as a toy (to amuse himself) and for schoolwork and that we could just take it away from him if he doesn’t do his work. He complains that his brothers have so many toys, and he has none. Not true. He whines that the only thing he likes to do are computer games. Not true: he likes to read, play board games, play lacrosse, and watch television. Wizard claims all his classmates have their own computers and some even have their own laptops. Well, he has access to a computer, but I password-protected his and his brothers’ accounts because they fought over whose turn it was. Each child lingers far too long when it’s his turn. Wizard particularly never logs off when he’s told to; we have to hound him for minutes and minutes after his time is up. We (I) have to supervise Wizard closely when he’s working on a school assignment on the computer because he’ll spend an inordinate amount of time surfing the Web for information — and probably plagiarizing it — instead of creating his own work. Every single one of his teachers found him doing this in his or her class last year.

No self-discipline is the major argument against Wizard having his own computer. Irresponsibility is another major argument. Wizard has lost 2-3 watches in the last several years, including a very nice Citizen watch he received from my parents for Chanukah one year. Lost! Poof! Gone with the wind. Wizard loses textbooks, notebooks, and calculators on a regular basis. He leaves a trail behind himself like Pigpen. Wizard leaves pens, pencils, napkins, and assorted trash in his pockets. He doesn’t take care of his laundry until it’s a crisis.

My last major argument is immaturity. Wizard will turn 12 this weekend. He is one of the youngest in his class. Although we haven’t yet had “the talk” with him, I imagine he has a pretty good understanding of sexuality. I don’t think he’s emotionally ready to be exposed to all that is graphic and crude on the Internet. He may think he’s grown up and he may look mature, but inside really Wizard is still a child. He is moody and petulant and spoiled. He needs to mature and learn how to control his mouth and his anger. He is so much like I was as a teenager.

If you’ve read this far, I need to hear your feedback.

*Florida child labor laws have an exemption allowing an underage minor to work for a parent for pay as long as it’s not during normal school hours.

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8 thoughts on “How Much Longer?

  1. Well, our almost twelve year old has her own computer, but it’s a desk top, not a lap top. We also have it in our game room, not in her bedroom. This decision was based on the same logic you use regarding full-time Internet access.

    So, I’d say, no laptop yet. In my thinking, that’s a good high school graduation present. But, I also say, have that talk…or better yet, have Wine Guy do it! Wizard is bound to be hearing things from the other guys at school, not all of it accurate.

  2. We talked about this and I have thought about it. If Wizard makes the money to pay for it himself, then I would let him buy the laptop, with a few coveats. I would make it clear that he will not have complete access to the internet, that you will put in place parental controls. (You can see my partner for additional information on which ones to use.) I would also let him know that he will have no expectation of privacy on the computer. When he goes to school or to sleep, you will have 100% access to the computer to track what he has been doing. In order to use the laptop, he must have all assignments in on time and all chores completed (you can add to and amend – you get the idea). If your stated exceptions are not acceptable, then he can wait until he is 18 to have a laptop in your house.

  3. It sounds like some work (three half-days a week) sounds about right. And would have the advantage of not letting him earn enough for the laptop.

    I believe you could still put serious parental controls on the laptop even if he had his own. The issues of too much web-surfing and plagiarism are going to be there whether he’s using his computer or yours or the schools. I don’t think I would allow a 13 YO to take a laptop from the house and certainly not to school.

    If it were me, I would probably set a a behavior plan by which he could earn the right to buy his own laptop at age 13 if he has earned the money and met the behavioral expectations. Major infractions (lying about schoolwork, plagiarizing, failing grades) postpone that date by 1-6 months. If he has his own money, you could also fine him for misbehavior and/or make him pay to replace items lost through his own carelessness. Or, if laundry is not done on a timely basis, charge him $10 a load for you to do it. And, of course, the priviledge of holding a job could be revoked at any moment if he does not show the proper respect and attitude at home.

    I guess I’d see it as, the kid wants to work instead of sit on his butt all summer. That’s at least a step in the right direction; I’d try to use it to both of your advantages.

  4. In Maine every 7th Grader gets their own laptop. It is a state program that works really well, so History Girl is getting a laptop this Fall if we like it or not, because truely she needs a laptop to do her homework. The laptop has to go back and forth to school everyday. She will get penalized if she forgets her laptop. I will most likely go on the laptop when she gets it and put on parental controls that will work with the things the school needs her to access, because I do think 12 is way too young for a kid to be able to wander free on the internet, because sometimes I bump into things that disturb me at my age, I don’t need her to bump into things that will scar her.

    So I guess I feel that if he has to willpower to save the money then I think he should be allowed to buy the laptop with the cavat that you put parental controls on it and you have access to it to make sure nothing is going on that shouldn’t be.

    With this all said I am also the woman who is looking to buy Horse Girl (8years old) her own laptop to help her get around some of her LDs. I am looking into this because when I was growing up my school got me a computer to help me get around my LDs, that was in 1982 (I was 12 years old) so you can imagine what a big deal it was. So I tend to look at a computer as a tool more then most people and my girls know that I view it as that..the fact you can do other things with it is just a bonus.

  5. I find myself agreeing the most with Louise, though personally I would not trust my Aug96 child with a laptop anytime soon either – mostly for the carelessness aspect. In fact, reading this just gave me an idea for the week to test my child and his readiness for a cell phone – I’m going to give him something that he must carry with him at all times and *not lose*! I’ve had three recent instances where it would have been nice for him to have one, and we did mark Jr High as the point for considering it, and he did get into his honors classes. So, now I am left with the responsibility part.

    Ok, rambling way of saying, I love that he wants to work and agree with you that he should have a balance of play time and work time for the summer. I think it is great that he has a goal – you’ve been struggling with what to use as motivation for him with his schoolwork, right? Perhaps making it a combination – yes, he needs to earn the money, but the other half of the equation is proving maturity and responsibility and if you go with Louise’s plan, then you cover both.

  6. I think there are a lot of great ideas here. If you choose to eventually let him have a laptop – I’d agree with parental controls *AND* no web surfing unless he’s in a “public area” of the house.

    I like Thelma’s idea about setting up a behavior plan for him to “earn his way” to a laptop.

    I think think there’s a “right” age. I think it’s a matter of the individual child’s level and maturity and responsibility. And right now you don’t think he’s ready. And — you are the mom and as we all know, the mom is always right.

    Chip, for example, is mature and responsible to handle having his own cell phone. But right now I don’t need him to have one. I also don’t need to spend the money for him to have one. I’ve told him that he can have one when it makes my life easier for him to have one.

    At this point in time — would it make your life easier for Wizard to have a laptop??

  7. i think it depends on the child. BC is probably trustworthy enough to listen to our words and follow our instructions. but hellboy? i know if i give him a pc he’ll be hacking into some corporate network and i’ll be up to my eyeballs in trouble.

    i dunno. the loss issue also makes me lean away from a laptop and closer toward a desktop, as antediluvian they may seem.

    it’s all about control around here 😉

  8. My July96 son does have a desktop in his room. Heck I just got my first laptop for Mothers Day. But you have to have Net Nanny or some other controls on it to alert you to everything he does on it. And then if he’s on it late at night you can control the entry password too. I agree with if he wants to work all summer to earn the money that’s much better than sitting around all day. With his track record though I wouldn’t let it out of the house, ever!

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