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Kids Need to Know Why That Electronic Timeout Is Necessary

There are many ways to punish through gadgets, but make it relate to the offense, experts say.

January 24, 2002|CHRISTINE FREY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Television traditionally has been revoked for misbehaving children. But now some parents are pulling the plug on much more than the TV.

The number of parents using the Internet as a form of punishment has increased, from 30.6% in 2000 to 37.2% in 2001, according to a recent UCLA Internet Report.

"It's a very real electronic timeout," said Jan English-Lueck, an anthropology professor at San Jose State University.

But simply taking away a child's games or pager might not improve their behavior, experts warn.

Punishments should be "natural consequences that deal directly with the transgression," said Susan Panzarine, author of "Teenagers and the Internet: What Every Parent Should Know." A child that runs up a cell phone bill, for example, might be required to pay it.

"Kids forget that these are not rights that they have," Panzarine said. "They really are privileges and with privileges comes responsible behavior."

Before taking away a privilege, however, parents need to inform their children of the consequences of their actions, said Nadine Block, director of the Center of Effective Discipline in Columbus, Ohio.

Block recommends that parents sit down with the child and decide together how much time to allot for the Internet, video games and cell phone, allowing for more time on weekends than during the week. Should a child fail to adhere to the established guidelines, parents should be reasonable with their punishment, withdrawing privileges for days--not weeks.

Parents also must consider how a particular punishment will affect their children, said Irwin Hyman, a professor of psychology at Temple University who studies discipline.

"Is what you're going to withdraw a privilege or necessity in our technological age?" he said.

Although it is not essential for children to visit chat rooms, they may need to use the Internet for schoolwork. In some cases, it may be better to limit, instead of completely prohibit, a certain privilege. Instead of banning a child from using the telephone, parents can block calls to certain area codes.

"You can use technology as part of the discipline," Hyman said.

In fact, rather than deny their children technology, some parents force them to use it as punishment. Conducting research for the Silicon Valley Cultures Project, anthropology professor English-Lueck has seen parents threaten to keep track of kids with global positioning systems or insist that they carry pagers and cell phones--what she calls the "electronic tether"--with them at all times.

Since punishment is considered a negative form of discipline, most experts encourage parents to discipline children by helping them acknowledge what they did wrong.

"We need to give kids from an early age [an understanding of] how they hurt others and what they can do to make amends, so when they do things they can put themselves in the other person's place," said Block of the Center of Effective Discipline.

Often the threat of punishment is enough to prevent children from misbehaving.

"You should be able to raise kids using positive techniques and rarely use punishment," Hyman said.

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Christine Frey covers personal technology. She can be reached at christine.frey@latimes.com.

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