Today’s guest post comes from Rachel Jeffcoat, who studied English at Oxford University half a decade ago. After a hard day’s work correcting grammar as an editor, she comes home to read, cook, play the piano once the neighbours have gone out, and spend time with her lovely husband. In September she plans to hang up her red pen in exchange for a baby bottle, but will not be giving up her attachment to the semicolon. She blogs at

Last night, I cried because I’d spent the whole evening on the computer.

I should preface this by saying that I am pregnant with our first child, and cry over everything from gone-off milk to Disney films. But this time I meant it: I am desperate to reform our family computer habits before our baby is born, and haven’t the slightest clue how to go about it.

My husband is soon to graduate in Computer Science and begin a career in IT, so we have something of a handicap before we begin. But our main difficulty is that we are both of a generation that has never been without computers. We have more laptops in the house than people, and we don’t use them primarily for email or computer games. They play our music and stream our television shows. They are photo albums, telephones, journals, dictionaries. They are facilitators. And so every time we institute another round of Family Computer Rules, No Really, This Time We Mean It and switch off our machines, they’re back on again within five minutes.

In my head I hear President Uchtdorf issuing dire warnings about ‘heartless chambers of isolation’ , and I think: I do not want this. I want to be a good mother. Granted, my hazy conception of ‘being a good mother’ at the moment ranges from teaching table manners to owning a fancy changing bag, but I would like my children to see me doing things that matter, rather than looking at status updates on Facebook. I want us to read, and paint, and cook, and play outside (is my rose-tinted vision of motherhood coming across yet?). There’s a great deal on the computer that is worthwhile and uplifting too – not least keeping in contact with transatlantic family – but we’ll have to draw the line somewhere. And so, with seven weeks to go, I need to find some boundaries that work and that are realistic. Otherwise, this little person is going to emerge from the womb exercising his mouse-clicking finger, and I’d rather he learned how to stretch his imagination instead.

What are the computer rules in your household? What do you use computers for, and how do you feel about your children using them?

July 18, 2011


  1. FoxyJ

    July 17, 2011

    I have had those same mixed feelings about computers. Sometimes they are great, like Christmas day when we could Skype with the family members in Hawaii and the cousins spent an hour comparing presents and talking together. Or the fact that my husband works at home for an internet-based company. Or even things like this great blog that lets us all talk together and share our insights.

    But, I can also see some of the downsides to the technology as well and understand the need to be wary. My oldest two are only 5 and 7, and they’re really only started using computers during the last year. They play a few online games and I’m pretty strict about monitoring and limiting their ‘screen time’. I’ve also tried to be a good example by staying off the computer as much as possible during the time when they’re home and awake. In the past I tended to pop on and off just to ‘check things’ but I’ve learned that the world won’t end if I spend the whole afternoon and evening focusing on my kids instead of the internet.

    The thing is, computers are here to stay and they can be very valuable tools. I think that as parents we need to teach our kids good, appropriate computer skills just like we would teach them to use any other tool. Our elementary school got a grant for a nice computer lab, and every grade has computer class once a week. They learn typing, internet safety, how to search online, etc. I think this is great–I work at a library and I teach part-time at a university and I see so many people that need better computer skills. I don’t think computers are just an ‘extra’ anymore for most of us, and they won’t be for our kids.

  2. Nancy R

    July 17, 2011

    My husband is also a computer scientist and we have one desktop, two iPads, a Netbook, a Roku and an old laptop at our house. I recently read an article about children and “screentime,” which could mean computer, tv, computer games, and video games. The article suggested limiting screentime for young children to two hours a day. I’ve read this elsewhere and have been trying to implement a 2 hour rule in our house. As for myself and my husband, we don’t have rules, though I try to use computers when the kids are asleep. Its hard to find a balance.

  3. Bryony

    July 17, 2011

    Seeing as I’m married to your husband’s brother, I have no good advice. We’re in nearly the same boat! Okay, I suppose I have a little advice:
    1) you can forgive some of it since, like us, the computer multi-tasks as a TV, radio, DVD player, telephone, etc. and those are useful as well as entertaining.
    2) When you and TJ are at home alone, check Facebook and the like during naptimes and use iPlayer or DVDs for one program a day once s/he’s old enough to appreciate those sorts of things.

    Mostly, though, I just like that the picture you’ve used came from the Thanksgiving dinner at our place last year (the awful orange wall tipped me off straight away).

  4. Janell

    July 17, 2011

    Both my husband and I are computer folk and, like you, would probably forget half our computers if we were to attempt to list them all. They range from the computer which controls the lights of our house to the laptops which we use to perform our jobs.

    Our (no kids yet) computers rules of etiquette are unofficially:

    * No computers in bed unless we both using our laptops. (Once we were both sick and working from home. He on one side of the bed with his work laptop, I on the other with mine.)

    * Put your monitor down when we’re talking to each other except when the conversation requires reference to digital material.

    * No laptop use when we’re eating a meal together.

  5. Bonnie

    July 17, 2011

    I don’t have advice about screen time; I just wanted to say to keep your rose-tinted vision of motherhood. It will help you through. And motherhood really is as good as all that. You do get to read and paint and cook and play outside and teach your children wonderful things and have so much fun. And your kids benefit so much from all that. (I also want you to know that this is coming from a mom of 3 – ages 3, 2, and 1 month – who deals with WAY to many bodily fluids on a daily basis. And I still love it.)

  6. cahkaylahlee

    July 17, 2011

    Something we started after being married a year or so was “no computers on Saturday”, in an effort to help us get needed work done and also get us out of the house doing fun stuff like going to a state park or visiting a town/part of town we’ve never been to. For some of the same reasons you listed in your post, we’ve had to relax the rule to “no blogs or computer games on Saturday” (which is what we were mostly wasting our time with then, our rule should probably be revised soon…)

  7. NewlyHousewife

    July 17, 2011

    In retrospect I lived in a somewhat technology free household (1 box t.v, and one desktop computer that’s located right next to it). My siblings and I were in our early teens when we got the computer, but once it became known that we kids would frequently try to take reign of things we weren’t using my parents set the rule as follows: “One is limited to one form of technological entertainment at a time.” In the case of my family, it prevented a lot of fights/arguments regarding a desire to be on the computer AND watch t.v.

    But in my own household (no kids, but one on the way), the spouse and I plan on implementing similar rules in the sense that screens would be used in open areas (no one has a t.v/computer in their rooms and even now the laptop is almost always in the living room) and children are not allowed to have any online accounts until they’ve reached the age of 13 and showed clear understanding along with maturity regarding what is and is not appropriate online.

    My understanding is that for children when it comes to computers they see them as toys more than anything else. So I would suggest if one were to ensure they were completely safe: buy a cheap desktop, delete Internet Explorer (or at least delete the desktop icon), and have that specific computer be ONLY used for computer games. Also, a busy kid will have no time to use the computer. So come summer time sign them up for every activity imaginable 😉

  8. Ana

    July 17, 2011

    While I commend your desire to get this all in check before the baby comes, I’d caution that life with computers and kids is an ongoing thing. So, I wouldn’t stress too much about what you are doing now. When the baby arrives, you’ll start to figure it out. Sometimes, you’ll be sure you aren’t spending the right amounts of time, and sometimes you’ll feel it’s going perfect. Then the kid gets a little older, or what you need changes, and it all gets renegotiated.

    That’s what we’ve found. We have a 3 year old and a 6 year old. Our oldest has loved the computer since he was old enough to sit up at it. He’s exceptionally computer savvy, and I don’t regret introducing it to him so early. Our youngest didn’t seem to care until recently, although he’s caught up pretty quickly in the savvy department.

    I don’t have any hard fast rules, and kind of laugh a bit at the two hour screen time limit. My goals are to make sure we spend time together away from the computer and TV, focus our time there in good ways, and keep Facebook and other social media away from them as long as I possibly can. Our computers are in the living room with everything else we focus on, including the LEGO table, so we are all together no matter who is doing what. I know what they are up to, and it seems to be working okay so far. You’ll figure it out, really!

  9. Roberta

    July 17, 2011

    As the mom of older teenage daughters, I think the best thing I ever did was control and limit their “screen” time when they were little and through middle school. I hoped that way they’d never develope the habit to turn to it for entertainment rather than their imaginations or books.That seemed to work. Now that they are 18 and 15 and have their I-touches/cell phones/laptops as fixed bodily appendages, it seems they can let go without (too much) mental anguish. I think it’s all about teaching moderation in all things.

    Happy mothering with your new baby! It’s a total blast!!

  10. Roberta

    July 17, 2011

    *develop* Strike the renegade “e” there….

  11. Kristin

    July 17, 2011

    I am a mom of five kids, ages 2-almost 11. We do not have hard and fast rules, except no screen time on Sunday. (At least that is my rule, but since it isn’t my husband’s it doesn’t always work as I’d planned it to.) Having the screens off helps add to the Sabbath day feel. We do have Sabbath appropriate music though.

    Generally, when the kids play computer games, they can only play 15 minutes at a time and have to set a timer. They may get two turns in a day, but not consecutive.

    My oldest does a lot of work on the computer for school, and I’m glad she is so comfortable and capable there.

    I have to be honest, in the first trimester of each pregnancy we have had too much TV, but those seasons were just very tough and we did what we had to for survival.

    For the most part though, I play it by ear. I can tell when my kids are onscreen too much…they are grumpier, more selfish, and less contentious. When that happens, I know we need to try again with the rose-colored glasses, and turn to painting, cooking, service projects, etc. We are voracious readers too, but sometimes that can be as addictive and isolating as screen time for my older girls and I. All things in moderation as best as we can, right?

    So long as you make sure those little ones have access to the tools which will fuel their imagination and learning (the paints, the legos, the Little People, the dress-ups, the library books, the sidewalk chalk, etc) with the encouragement and guidance to use them, you’ll all do just fine.

    Welcome to Mommyhood!

  12. Michelle

    July 17, 2011

    Just wanted to second the vote for rose-tinted glasses. For me, the best way to keep my computer use in check is to savor my role as wife and mother and homemaker. Good-better-best and all that.

  13. Michelle

    July 17, 2011

    (And just because I share what works doesn’t mean I do it perfectly. It’s a choice I have to make every day, every hour — and some days/hours are better than others.) 😉

  14. Rachel

    July 18, 2011

    Thanks for so many helpful comments!

    Skype is amazing, and we’ll be using it a lot more once I’m at home with the baby. I really want my kids to know both sets of grandparents equally well, despite the fact that my mum lives in the US.

    Limiting my computer use to naptime seems like a great idea, as does turning the computer off during mealtimes. I think that perhaps instituting a ‘no computers on Monday nights’ might be helpful too, so we’re not tempted to put off Family Home Evening.

    Definitely agree that I’d prefer my kids not to have Facebook accounts, etc, until they’re old enough to handle them. 13 or so seems like a good starting point.

    To everyone commending the rose-tinted glasses approach – thank you for the reassurance! I am so looking forward to it and really want to savour the changes that are coming, bodily fluids and all 🙂

  15. Michelle L.

    July 18, 2011

    Thanks for an excellent post, Rachel. And welcome to motherhood! I’ve loved reading the comments. As Ana said, don’t make too many strict rules because it changes all the time. We are doing really well with screen time at my house this summer (it just hasn’t been tempting) but it seems like we have to reevaluate every few months.

    And Oxford! Oh my. Studying there was one of my life dreams. Good for you.

  16. m2theh

    July 18, 2011

    We also have more computers than people in our house! Our daughter has never known life without a DVR, which gets pretty amusing when we are at a hotel and she wants us to pause the show so she won’t miss anything.

    Our basic rule is no tv, computer or video games before school or church.

    When we first got Netflix, our 4-year-old figured out how to watch it on an iPod all by herself.

    If I think too much screen time is going on (and I am more guilty than anyone since I usually have my laptop on my lap while I am watching tv), I turn off the tv and we go do something else.

  17. Laurel C.

    July 18, 2011

    I struggle with this! The computer is my writing tool, which is a hobby that I love. So saying “no screen time” is akin to saying, “No writing for you, Laurel.” And I’m not okay with that. Back to the pen and paper?

    The computer also holds a portal to where the people are (Facebook, blogs, e-mail). I feel isolated many days, so I love plopping down in front of the computer and looking in on my far-away friends and family.

    These two issues are deeper than just setting time limits for computer use, and I don’t know how to resolve it. But just like you, I hate that I can spend so many hours on the computer. I lay in bed at the end of those days and feel like the crappiest mom. But I have no idea how to solve the root of the problem.

    And now I’m feeling guilty for sitting here. I better go play with my son…

  18. Sharlee

    July 18, 2011

    We’re a family of seven (five kids, two parents), and I’m really the only one who struggles with spending too much time on the computer. But I do struggle with it! As Laurel C. points out, it’s a particular problem for those of us who call ourselves writers. I mean, a computer is where I do my work! The problem, of course, is that there are so many distractions on a computer (email, facebook, blogs, youtube, itunes, amazon, etc.). A friend of mine who is also a writer has tried to solve this problem by having two computers–one of which isn’t connected to the internet at all. That’s the one he uses to do his writing.

    But, yeah, computers are here to stay. One of our responsibilities as parents in the 21st century is to teach our children how to use technology in responsible, disciplined ways. We definitely limited on-screen time for our children, especially when they were little. Actually, it’s not so much that we limited it as that we didn’t really present it as an option. There were always way too many other cool things going on (fort building and basketball and hiking and reading and . . . ) As a result, it wasn’t ever much of an issue when they got older.

  19. BJ

    July 19, 2011

    I think Laurel C. pointed out the biggest factor in my struggle with screen time: The internet “holds a portal to where the people are (Facebook, blogs, e-mail). I feel isolated many days, so I love plopping down in front of the computer and looking in on my far-away friends and family.”

    Being home with my 11-month-old son is an amazing opportunity that I wouldn’t trade for the world, but since my husband is in school and working full time, I really feel the isolation of having no one around that I can actually hold a real conversation with. The computer solves that problem- just start up Firefox and away you go! Socialization and intelligent conversation at your fingertips, no matter the time of day… and before you know it, it’s been an hour, or two, and naptime is over without having accomplishing anything really worthwhile…

    Also, I use the laptop to listen to audiobooks while I’m doing laundry or washing dishes, etc… so even if I’m not directly staring at the screen, the computer is on. Unfortunately, I also have no real solution for the problem… but I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

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