Computerwise parents – a beginner's guide

With many schools listing laptops and memory sticks as essential learning tools, parents need to be computer-savvy for their kids’ sake.

The objective of the technology drive in schools is to make children computer-savvy and to support their schoolwork (extra information, cool presentation, multi-sensory input).

While schools and libraries are good at providing the necessary computer environment, sooner or later in your child’s school career a personal computer becomes a must for homework and projects.

Educational computer games, online spelling tests, how-to video clips and science experiments on YouTube all supplement the learning process.

What To Buy

  • PC or Mac? Check what they use at school.
  • Laptops are not ideal for children: they’re heavy, easy to drop, risky to lose, difficult to upgrade.
  • If you allow video games, you’ll need a powerful processor, more RAM(memory), more hard disk (storage) space and a better video card (new monitors are good quality, it’s the card that matters). If the computer is mainly for homework purposes, a middle-of- the-range second-hand machine will do.
  • When it comes to the processor (the computer’s brain), buy slightly above your current needs, because processors, unlike memory or storage, are difficult to upgrade.
  • You will also need computing accesories such as a wireless printer, mouse, and mouse pad.

Where To Buy

  • Electronic stores offer deals, but bear in mind you might get worse quality or a machine difficult to upgrade.
  • Small “computer service” businesses build computers from new or second-hand parts. Word-of-mouth will tell you which are reliable.
  • Buy your friend’s or your work’s computer when they upgrade, or check ads for second-hand machines. This option carries no warranty.
  • distributes second-hand stuff, including computers, for free re-use. The group’s philosophy is that of sharing, so try to offer something else in exchange (a table, a tent).

What Parents Need to Master

  • Virus protection software
  • Firewall
  • Operating system and software updates
  • Parental control software



  • Monitor, keyboard, mouse.
  • Computer box containing motherboard, hard disc, processor, RAM, video card,ports (for USB memory sticks, printers, etc).
  • Power cables (computer and monitor), monitor-to-computer cable (usually attached to the monitor).
  • Operating system installation CDs.


  • DVD drive
  • Printer (usually with built-in scanner)

Internet (line connection):

  • Home telephone line
  • Network card and cable
  • ADSL modem/router
  • Computer-to-modem cable (or wireless equivalent)
  • An internet provider (Xtra, ICONZ, Orcon)

For wireless internet, check with a wireless provider (Woosh, Compass, Vodafone).

Computer Rules

  1. Stick to your allotted time.
  2. Don’t pester siblings or parents during their computer time.
  3. Homework first, fun later.
  4. No eating or drinking at the keyboard.
  5. Be net-smart: don’t run suspicious software, don’t upload photos into public domains, don’t reveal contact details in chat rooms.
  6. Respect your family’s values when browsing.
  7. Computer activity in the lounge only (to ensure appropriate and safe use).

ages and stages

Less is better. A switched-off computer works wonders for toddler pretend-play. Optional: a few good educational games, no internet needed.

5- to 8-year-olds
Learning to read and write, they need internet access for school projects. Because it’s easy to type something innocent into Google and get violent/indecent images, install parental control software to filter the content.

9- to 12-year-olds

They use Facebook to share photos and chat rooms to make friends. Software to guard their personal information is a must. Check their games for over-aggressive content. A good threat for misbehaviour is slashing their computer time.

Top tips

Upgrade the computer’s 1-year warranty to 3 years. Kids are ingenious at stuffing up computers.

  • When buying a complete system, ask for free software or a discount on a printer.
  • Make sure you have access to good and fast technical support.
  • You’ll always need a bigger hard disc. Those school trip photos are 2Mb-8Mb each!
  • A memory stick is handy for moving files between home and school.
  • A computer without software is like a fridge without food. You need a word processor, an internet browser, slide-making software. Make a list as a family.
  • Budget for your monthly internet bill ($30-$60 a month) and ask your kids to contribute.
  • A computer is not an investment: it loses value every month. Postpone the purchase as long as possible.
  • Don’t bother with the latest and greatest technology. If your computer is sluggish, buy extra memory.
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