Most households these days have more gadgets than people. However, if you're still struggling to keep everyone in the family happy with just one computer, here are some smart strategies that you can carry out to encourage peace and harmony with family tech use.
Illustration: Tina Mailhot-Roberge
Create Separate User Accounts
You can do this with both PC and Mac computers. Creating separate accounts for each family member provides a sense of individuality and control. Users can have different backgrounds, desktop icons and folders. These accounts may have passwords for privacy as well. Consider allowing passwords to keep nosy siblings out, while requiring that all passwords be reported to parents for supervision.
Keep Individual Cubbies by the Computer
While you may share a single computer, this doesn't mean that you have to share all your gadgets. Assign each family member a cubby near the computer desk. This is ideal for storing a portable external hard drive, USB drives, Bluetooth devices, a special mouse pad, USB toys and game discs.
Make Clear Rules for Computer Use
You can stop arguments in their early stages by setting clear rules for all computer use. Assign each family member a set amount of time each day and be specific about when this allotment will take place. Cover all contingencies such as whether computer minutes roll over to the next day and if you will let one child to give her minutes to another. Discuss how you'll handle exceptions if a child has a special school project that requires use of the computer.
Place a Clock in a Prominent Location Near the Computer
To avoid arguments about when a user's time is up, keep a specially designated clock in the computer area. This will always be the official clock for mediating computer disputes, regardless of what the user's watch or desktop may read. A clock with an alarm is ideal for setting a five-minute warning before computer time is up.
Specify Where Laptops Can be Used
Desktop computers make it easy to appoint a family computer desk. With notebooks, the rules for use are not so clear cut. Discuss the rules for where laptops can and cannot be used both in and outside the house. Children are less likely to take part in inappropriate behaviour online when computer use takes place in a family room or other common area.
Allow Computer Use Outside the Home as Needed
If one computer just isn't enough to give each child online study time at the end of the semester, you may temporarily need the use of an extra computer. Consider taking the family to the library or a computer cafÈ where you can get access to other computers without having to buy a whole new device.
Keeping everyone in the family on a single computer is tricky, but there's no need to write this off as impossible. Sharing the computer may limit inappropriate use in teens and foster important values such as sharing in younger children.
Shaun Chatman is a well-published author on many authority sites. He lives in Dunedin, Florida, and spends his free time playing with his kids or advising friends on tech, gadgets, finance and travel. Follow him on Twitter.