Growing up with a keyboard at your fingertips is a relatively new concept, and there still seem to be more questions than answers about how much of an impact online time will have on children’s development.

But some experts say you can work to help them build a safer and smarter relationship with the computer.

Keep perspective

Spend more time with real-life friends than virtual friends, says the president of Web Wise Kids, a nonprofit in Santa Ana, Calif.

“Kids should be having both experiences,” Judi Westberg Warren says. “They should be able to be online for a limited period of time, but also should be involved in real-life relationships and real-life activities.”

Strategic placement

Keep the computer in a public space, Westberg Warren says. It shouldn’t be in the child’s room, where he is free to be online without supervision.

Be involved

Parents should get to know the programs their kids are using, according to Westberg Warren. It’s no good letting your child loose into a virtual world that you don’t know how to navigate yourself.

Participating can also be a good way to do an activity alongside your kid, instead of letting the computer be a divisive force in your relationship.

Content matters

“The message is the message,” when it comes to weighing the value of various Web sites and computer programs, says Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, director of the National Center for Children & Families at New York’s Columbia University.

Parents should pay attention to what kind of content their children are viewing when exploring virtual worlds.

Notice blatant advertising

A lot of sites aimed at kids are trying to sell stuff and introduce brands to children at an early and impressionable time of their lives.

Parents should keep an eye out for that kind of campaign, because kids can’t always recognize that the virtual world they are playing in is a glorified commercial, Brooks-Gunn says. “There’s no reason to increase the consumerism of children in America.”

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