A Computer for an 11 Year Old?

Here is a slightly reworked post from the Waldorf at Home discussion forum. The person who wrote in had an almost 11 year old son and her relatives were suggesting they buy him a laptop for his 11th birthday. What did I think about this?…. Read on!

You know what I’m going to say….. DON’T DO IT!!! It will completely change the dynamics in your house in terms of learning. He’ll want to type things and not handwrite them…. he’ll pester for Internet use…and pester and pester if he’s anything at all like 99% of children on earth….all computers come with Encarta or similar so he’ll want to use it to look up info for projects instead of books….and if it’s a so-called educational thing it will come with so-called educational software which he will want to use….

And the Encarta/Wikipedia thing is a real problem, I can tell you – I (and my colleagues) have a lot of trouble in high school with my students limiting themselves solely to Wikipedia when doing reports. I think Wiki is great and I certainly use it all the time – but only as a key and a guide to deeper knowledge. It often helps me get started on my research and gives me ideas of what to do next – but it is a huge problem to get high school students to stretch and take things further. And I would say that it could be far worse if at 11 or 12 (how long will you hold out?!) a child starts to see Wiki etc as a source – THE source – of information.

There is PLENTY of time to learn all the skills he will need in high school. At the high school where I teach most of the kids enter 9th grade with no knowledge of computers either because their folks are back-to-the-land low tech types or Waldorf people (or both). Within days the kids have learned to set up MySpace things,  use Facebook, watch YouTube videos and can type and print out and e-mail….and use the internet. It takes no time at all to learn these things at that age. And in 3 or 4 years technology will have changed tremendously – the argument that “they need to learn when they’re young” holds no water AT ALL in terms of computer technology. Never ever worry that you are holding your son back in terms of computer technology – he will learn easily when he needs to. He is of the computer age – and that is a wonderful thing. But not for children.

What he needs to learn is HOW to learn. How to be a thoughtful, creative, flexible person who has a large context of knowledge and experience so that when he hones things down and starts to specialize when he’s older this will have a context. The broad knowledge from the Waldorf curriculum is one of THE best ways a child can learn to be a part of the world, with a historical context, with broad scientific and artistic knowledge, with an acquaintance with the myths, stories, history, literature, art and science of the world…. so that when he needs to find information on a computer and in his life when he’s much older, he will know what to do with it and where it fits.

A lap top also brings special problems as it is transportable – many parents insist that a computer used by children be in a “public” space in the home. With a lap top it is both exhausitng and demoralizing – for both of you – to monitor where it is and how much a child is on it. We got our then 14 year old son a lap top when he started high school and the idea was that when he was at school all day he wouldn’t be on it – he’d only have access to it for a couple of hours at home in the evening for homework. Well, he’s returned to homeschooling – and there’s the *%$$###!! lap top – in his room. Or there he is on the couch – on the lap top….. etc etc. We work hard at establishing limits for the computer – and that’s ok, it’s part of learning and our parenting of him. But I tell you, it gets exhausting. If the darn thing was a desk top in our home office, for instance, there would be nautral boundaries to its use which would make things easier!
And he’s 14 – not just turned 11. Big difference! And life changes completely for a child once he gets one of these things. Do you really think he will let you rest if his friend is designing web pages as you say?
And because you know me,  Forum Member X, I have ranted here a bit without restraint – you know that I say this with passion but gently and with the knowledge that this is a tough choice for you to make – not easy at all. And if you do get the computer, well, there you go! That’s your choice.
Here are a couple of wonderful articles about computers and children to read – and to print off and hand to friends and relatives worried that computerless children will somehow be at a disadvantage:
Then there’s The Future Does Not Compute, a wonderful book by Steve Talbot of NetFuture , a e-mail newsletter dedicated to “addressing especially those deep levels at which we half-consciously shape technology and are shaped by it.” According to Peter J. Denning of the New York Times it is a largely “undiscovered national treasure.” The book is available to read online.

Posted on April 28, 2008 in Children and Society, Older Children

  • sarah says:

    I have found computers to be a much bigger issue than television. My husband and I use laptops and find that we need to be very careful to not use them when the girls are around or else…what are we modeling? While we don’t want them on the computer, the computer is becoming more and more a tool for communication and so, we allow emailing to grandparents (luckily one grandmother likes to write long, cursive notes, the other likes to email). My daughter is about to turn 12 and the issues are only going to expand I know.
    On the laptop in public places issue, my friends have bought a large computer monitor and have placed it on a desk in their kitchen. The laptop has to be plugged into the monitor when being used by kids. (this is a non-Waldorf family)
    I enjoy reading your blog even though I don’t homeschool.

  • Kim says:

    Thanks for the great comments! As generous as a gift it seemed, we decided that the lap top would wait at least a few years.

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