Sometimes I wish I’d had the internet years ago. I could have kept in touch easily with my friends from high school and college, I could have asked for advice as a new mother, and I could have talked with my family here in the U.S. while we were living in Thailand. But in other ways I’m very glad that the internet didn’t come around sooner.
My oldest has always been technologically inclined. When he was three I enrolled him in a preschool program that involved mothers and children working together and he always enjoyed the time he spent on the computer–this was the mid-80s so the technology was simple then. Later, as a teen, he started working on computers, and to this day he likes to repair computers and cell phones for extra income. He’s also the one who introduced me to the internet.
It was late 2000, I think, and I was very wary of getting online. I’d heard horror stories about online porn and other nasty things. But Ahmad set up an email account for me and showed me how to find my way around. With his urging, I began to explore. After 9/11, when I wanted to find more information about the attacks, I was hooked.
In those days we had a single desktop computer we kept in the living room. None of the boys could use it without being seen and we were very careful about keeping it that way. There was a time when the older boys asked to have it in their bedroom, but it stayed in the living room.
At first we had only the one desktop for the family. But, as a writer, I wanted to have a little more freedom, so I invested in a laptop. I had the freedom to write wherever I wanted, and the boys still had the desktop out in the open.
Back in 2006 my laptop was stolen. We were living in Milwaukee then and apparently someone broke through a bathroom window in the middle of the night and took both my laptop and my cell phone. My second son saw how crushed I was and took me out to buy me another laptop with his own earnings. My husband later insisted on reimbursing him, but that gesture still means so much.
When we moved to Lexington the boys still had the desktop and I had my laptop. But when I’d had it for two years it started to wear down a little, and acting quirky, and I began thinking about getting a new one. At the same time, our fifth son (we had only two at home by then) was frustrated because he had trouble getting all of his homework done while sharing the desktop with his little brother. So I gave him my old laptop and got a new one.
Now we had a boy alone in his room with a computer. But I made him keep his door open and I checked at random times. He’s always been honest with me and in the two years he’s had the laptop we’ve never had any problems. It was a leap of faith, though. And along the way he discovered Facebook, and convinced me I should have my own Facebook page. He’s the one who made it for me.
Last fall I was facing the same situation with our youngest. The desktop had died so he was left sharing whatever computer he could get, and meanwhile I thought it might be time, after two years, for me to get an upgrade. So I gave him my laptop. He does keep his door open and he knows I’m watching. The worst I’ve found is that sometimes he’s playing a game when he should be doing his homework. But his grades are good.
The biggest danger is that we can each get caught up in our separate computing and forget to interact. But that rarely happens. Salat times are the best times for talking, especially salatul asr after the boys come home from school. We discuss various issues and catch up on our individual concerns. And we do talk face to face rather than sending messages online.
I strongly agree that parents need to establish age limits for certain computer privileges. For instance, Facebook requires that someone be 13 in order to have an account, and I would actually go with 14. When our youngest got his first email and Facebook accounts, I did know his user names and passwords.
I also think, though, that somewhere around the ages of 17 or 18 it has to become a matter of trust. We always need to keep communications open with our kids, and we can even peek in on them once in a while, but as they get older we should also let them know that we trust them and respect their judgment. With my first, I had no choice because I barely knew what a computer was when he was that age. And I know my current 18-year old doesn’t lie to me. He never has. Building that relationship of trust and respect is so very important.