My Son's a Cyber-Spud

Q. My teenage son spends hours on the Internet instant-messaging his friends. Although we monitor the sites he visits (and have protective software on his computer), I'm worried he's spending so much time online that he's missing out on other activities. Any suggestions?

A. Welcome to teen years in the 21st century! For our parents, it was our hours on the telephone. I wonder what conversation conduit the next generation will use? Whatever it is, the reason's always the same: relationship. And how can you build friendships without talking? This focus on friends is one telltale sign your son's growing up.

But just because it's natural for your kid to want to spend hours talking with his friends doesn't mean it can't become an unhealthy habit. Inordinate amounts of time devoted to any one thing, at the exclusion of other activities, is cause for concern.

Coincidentally, my husband and I recently had this exact conversation one morning over coffee. It seemed every time I looked up, our daughter was either checking her e-mail or posting comments on her online school bulletin boards. So we came up with a plan to limit her computer use. Our daughter may use the computer for 30 minutes each day after all her schoolwork's completed. She earns extra computer time for every 30 minutes of additional reading.

Here are a few other computer rules at our house: We have the computer in a common open area. And even though we've installed strict protective software, our kids know Dad checks the history and "cookie" files periodically. Occasionally, out of the blue, I'll even ask to read some of our kids' old e-mails. Yeah, I know, parents are supposed to respect their children's privacy. But that doesn't mean blindly granting them the freedom to stray into dangerous territory without monitoring them and being able to rescue them if necessary.

LISA WHELCHEL is the author of Creative Correction (Focus on the Family), So You're Thinking About Homeschooling (Multnomah), and the founder of MomTime Get-A-Ways. She and her husband, Steve, have three children. E-mail your parenting questions for Lisa to

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