May 1, 2014

Technology and Kids

I fear I must be old.  Officially.  I can honestly better understand now when old people say, "Things used to be better back in my day.  We got along just fine without (fill in the blank)."  Not only do I understand why old people say that, I ACTUALLY caught myself saying it too!  Yes, I confess.  It's hard getting older in this fast paced, technologically advanced era where kids are more tech savvy than adults in many cases.  What type of world are we passing on to them?

If I was being honest, I would say there are some days I begrudge technology and other days I embrace it.  It's like an oxymoron, you can't live with it, you can't live without it.  As a parent I struggle with knowing the limits to set for my children in regard to technology.  There are no precedents to go by.

What age should a child get his/her own cell phone?  This question hit close to home when Chloe's friend received an iPhone for her 10th birthday.  I was aghast, "What kid needs an iPhone when they're 10?".  Chloe however, had a different take on it. She tells us, "I'm the only kid in all off 4th grade who doesn't have a phone."  She's different because of our choices.  I responded with, "And you're probably the only kid whose mom stays at home.  Do you want me to go to work so you can have a cell phone?   What would you do with it anyways?"   Come to think about it, she's never known a time when people didn't have cell phones.  Since she's been born, we've always had one.  We haven't had a land-line in ages.  Cell phones are perfectly 'normal' to her.   But from our perspective, we've only had one for 10 years.  When we were kids/teens, it was a big deal to have a phone line in your own room.  Mostly, you just talked on the phone attached to the wall in the kitchen in front of everybody.  My kids can't even fathom that concept.

Time and age give us a completely different perspective on technology.  I can't imagine how hard it must be for our grandparents' generation to accept the lightning fast changes in technology they've witnessed in their 80+ years of life on this earth.  I'd be hesitant to trust it too given the life experiences they've lived through.  My grandma didn't even like the answering machine...that little bit of technological wonder came out in the 80's!  My grandfather would go unplug anything in the house that was plugged into a wall socket every single night.  Electronic devices (such as a toaster) didn't stand a chance in his house.

Gavin (at 15) just bought his first smartphone.  He has been the only kid since 7th or 8th grade who did not have one.  He never complained.  He laughed about it and we joked about it as a family, but it was never a big deal to him.  He kept the same phone we gave him at the end of 5th grade for 4 years. That's ancient in the tech world.  I asked him if waiting this long made this new phone purchase that much sweeter.  He said he couldn't agree more.  He appreciated it in a way that people appreciate something they've waited a long time to get.  Reminds me of the old saying: Anything worth having is worth the wait.

Here's where my critical attitude towards technology and the entitled attitude that most in our culture have toward it takes a turn towards the good.  Last night, Bennett, Chloe and I were messing around with Garageband on their iPads.  I was a little ticked off at the beginning saying things like, "Wouldn't it be better to actually know how to play these real instruments?" all the while thinking to myself, where has music appreciation gone to these days?  But as Chloe was navigating her way around and making up some pretty cool music that combined several different types of instruments, I suddenly realized the awesome opportunity we had to experiment with it all.  There's no way I would have been able to give my kids the chance to mess around with many different types of drums, keyboards, winds, guitars - ever.  We were appreciating music together after all - what do you know.  We were learning different styles of music on a garageband app on the ipad of all places.  Maybe this could be fun afterall.

I then asked them if they had a karaoke app that we could sing into on their ipad.  They couldn't find that, but we did find a voice recorder.  Sweet.  And Chloe found the music and words to "O Say Can You See" on her ipad.  So we used Chloe's ipad for the music and Bennett's to do the voice recording and we sang some pretty rockin versions of that song.  The best part was, we could change our voices to sound like chipmunks.  I can't even tell you the giggle fest that ensued.  We laughed our butts off listening to ourselves sing "O Say Can You See" like chipmunks (that version was 10 times better than our real voices - trust me!).  I asked the kids if they could somehow get that recording to me so I could insert it here - but none of us were tech savvy enough to figure that one out (and Gavin was elsewhere or he would have done it).  But it doesn't take tech smarts to push the 'chipmunk' button and provide crying-rolling-on-the-floor-holding-your-stomach-laugher.

The kids kept thanking me the rest of the night for 'singing' with them.  They gave me notes telling me how happy they were.  They said 'thank you' over and over again.  We made the most wonderful memory with the technology I was wanting to fight.  It's not worth it.  We need to embrace it and teach our children the boundaries that we feel are good and right for our family.  We need to learn to trust them with this technology instead of always feel like it's hurting them.   We need to empower them to make the right choices with it when there are so many wrong choices available to them.  We need to not live in fear of it or it will cause our children to live it fear of it.  We need to be more balanced in our thinking because, like it or not, this is the world our children will inherit and I don't want them to look at us like old curmudgeons who aren't teachable about the things that are prevalent in their world.
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