Teenagers love to chat and even do research on computers and elementary school kids get a kick out of playing games on computers. But when is the best time to introduce children to computers with all its wonders and pitfalls?
Exploring this question, the Minneapolis Star Tribune points to a recent study by the Department of Education that found 80 percent of kindergartners and two-thirds of all preschoolers now use computers. But despite their widespread use, the verdict is still out about when children should start using computers.
"This is an essential modern skill," said Lisa Peralta of Minneapolis. Her sons, 2-year-old Emileo and 4-year-old Mateo, aren't allowed to watch TV, but they do visit "Thomas & Friends" and other children's Web sites.
There is no doubt that many youngsters find it hard to moderate their computer use, and that has some educators worried.
"The computer has become part of the culture now, and people are no more thoughtful about kids being in front of computers than they are about sitting in front of televisions," said Lowell Monke, an associate professor of education at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.
Monke, who taught computer science in an Iowa high school for 20 years, doesn't believe students need computer instruction until middle school or even high school.
"Kids ought to be digging in the ground and playing with dogs and listening to their grandparents tell stories," he said. "Computers take that time away from them."
Some research shows that computers may help promote cognitive development, according to the Department of Education study. But technology critics say that the machines are no substitute for teaching.
"Everyone is gung-ho to give kids computers, but you see more improvement with one-on-one tutoring," said Lucy Payne, an associate professor of teacher education at the University of St. Thomas. "If we took the money we're dumping into technology and spent it on people who can interact with children, we'd be better off."