My 2-year-old is quite adept at maneuvering the mouse on our home computer. I still don’t know if this should make me proud or ashamed. Each time one of my children asks to play a game on my phone a million thoughts race through my mind before I can answer, much to their confusion I am sure.
This ambivalence about children armed with technology reminds me of the generation before me and how many of their elders felt about the advent of Rock’n Roll. It’s new, it’s enticing and, for better or worse, it is shaping our society at a rapid pace. Unless one is Amish, technology has become so astonishingly ubiquitous in the past 10 years it’s impossible to keep it from knocking on our doors any longer. Yet many of us are still trying to figure out how to welcome it into our own family lives.
When I first met my husband 12 years ago he didn’t own a television. He liked to read and exercise in his free time. I thought that was great! But after several years, one baby and wishing to have more connection with the world, we got a small television set for our family room. After several more years our then two older sons began to share their father’s love for sports — college football, NFL, MLB, you name it. To save me from having a serious case of Sports Widowitis we got a second television set for our bedroom with the rule that we’d keep being readers at night.
So when we finally broke down and got a Wii last year, we made a 1-hour a day technology rule for our kids (after a lesson in what happens with excessive use).
We were guests at a family’s Tahoe cabin, so we didn’t say much about the kids having unlimited access to as much Wii and Xbox playing as they wanted during a storm. But after about 90 minutes of video gaming, two of our combined six kids were in tears and the others were literally bouncing from the adrenaline of being harnessed to a 2-foot area of personal space for so long.
Back at home that 1-hour a day to indulge in electronics soon got stretched because they each wanted to do something different. How can one kid watch TV while another wants to play Wii on that same TV? “Let’s just throw it all out the window!” My husband would say, wishing to return to our simpler days.
We have since limited the television and Wii playing to weekends only, and surprisingly it has lost some of its luster.
I have also learned to appreciate what kids can do with technology. My 6-year-old likes to play virtual Checkers and there are applications and sites for little ones to complete puzzles and build reading skills.
And just as we have finally found some balance, I am beginning to think about what to give the older kids for Christmas. Many of their El Dorado Hills friends have hand held game and computer devices now. After doing some research and asking other parents what the pros/ cons are of giving kids such devices, I am warming up to these new tools too.
Watching TV during my own childhood downtime didn’t give me a short attention span or zap my imagination forever. And even though my generation didn’t have an ever-growing menagerie of electronics to choose from like families do today, if parents can teach their children about moderation all of this new technology can be put to good use.
Julie is the mother of four young children. She writes and lives in El Dorado Hills. You can write to her at [email protected]