In search of balance: Can families both embrace and overcome the Internet?

Published: Sunday, Sept. 9 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

The challenges that have arisen from Internet access and smartphones in the Jones Bott family led to specific rules and guidelines for their use. She said all phones must be turned off during school time. They make sure that the kids follow the rules by checking their phones for content, and by using settings preventing any data or text messages from being deleted.

Although Jones Bott knows it is not realistic to prevent every type of risk that is associated with the Internet, she has specifically targeted pornography, sexting and addictions affiliated with the Web.

"One of our rules is no accessing the internet without permission. I have a password on our Internet, and all of our computer and technology needs to be in the public area," she said. "You are less likely to get in trouble if you are not alone."

It's brought strong lessons on the need for boundaries and provides new opportunities for family discussion — when the devices are turned off.

"Anything intended for good, can be good or can be bad," she said. "(Internet), it is good and it is bad and it depends on how people use it."

Technology helps

Tina Persels has two 12-year-old children, but the siblings use technology differently.

Araya Persels uses a kid-friendly version of Google. The search engine for kids allows minors to create a home page with the benefit of blocking any form of adult content.

Adam Persels, who has multiple disabilities and special needs, uses a tablet to communicate with the world. His tablet is no bigger than any other version on the market and allows him to express himself to his family. He can ask for specific toys, express an emotion and entertain himself with a virtual drum set.

"Ten years ago there was nothing like this for a child like ours," Persels said. "My son is 12 and he needs to be able to tell us what he wants."

The evolution of technology has allowed children with disabilities to concentrate on a career path.

Jacob Hansen, 12, has cerebral palsy and cystic fibrosis. According to his mother, Jodi Hansen, 10 years ago his options for a career would have been severely limited.

With technology aiding her son, Jacob has set goals to become a computer designer or a computer programmer.

"Now he (Jacob) sees the future as he can now do something to support him and his family," Hansen said.

Speech software allows Jacob to communicate to his family through a tablet. He has also used the software to verbally write a 17 chapter book.

Having the benefit of books in tablets allows those with disabilities to read more than an average teenager.

Jacob cannot physically hold a book, but that has not stopped him from reading.

The option to listen to books when in bed allows him to read on average one book a week and the ability to flip a page in the tablet with a finger helps him finish books faster. 

Evans, the parent counselor, said her daughter Cassidy makes it a habit to install learning software for her 12-year-old sister, Camryn, who is in a wheelchair and suffers from cerebral palsy.

"She will go through books like nothing, she is a reader," Evans said of Camryn. "This Kindle has saved us so much money because she can get free books online."

The second oldest of Jones Bott's children, 17-year-old Kyle Jones suffers from autism. His condition limits his attention span and he is unable to read.

Due in part to his smartphone, he is now able to stay on track during the day. The smartphone has aided him by alerting him of his chores with a daily message. The device has given him stability by creating a daily routine that is beneficial to a teenager with autism.

When a message pops up in his device, Kyle is immediately reminded to brush his teeth, make his bed, while his 14-year-old brother Keenan is reminded to pick up his homework before going to school. 

Having a quick form of communication with the ability to aid her children in daily tasks has proven to be a real positive for the family.

The new family dynamic, with technology, has become identifying the boundaries for each child by extending the reach for some, and reining in the reach of others.

“I do think, by teaching them these (boundaries), hopefully it will carry on to adulthood (and) it won’t impact them negatively in losing a job because they are on their phone or ipod or the internet too much, being disrespectful to someone when you didn’t really intend it that way,” Jones Bott said.

E-mail: jreyes@desnews.com

Twitter: @_JulianReyes_

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