Thinking about techie parenting

Grain of salt included in purchase price as this is written by a guy who currently has no children.

Being a fan and avid consumer of media of all sorts, and a techie by vocation and avocation, I wonder a lot about what sorts of media and devices I should expose my children to and when.

Two questions nag at me from time to time as I contemplate my hypothetical children.

1) When should my children join social networking circles, and which ones?

2) Should I raise them to read books on real paper, or on tablets like their father?

The answer to question 2 is probably paper. We just painted our basement this weekend, and having to move all those children’s books back and forth from the shelves reiterated the fact we have a lot of great stuff to expose them to on paper (including the 58 Hardy Boys hardcover books). We’re not re-buying all this stuff on tablets. That’d just be silly.

Question 1 is more complex. I have this niggling feeling that social media will be semi-critical to my children integrating well in their peer group. I already know there are whole worlds going on around me of which I am unaware. The Twitter-verse is virtually unknown to me, as is Pintrest, Reddit, and ridiculous scads more. My feeling is that face to face interaction will always be the most important, but given the different ways in which people conduct themselves on-line, I wonder if missing these conversations is leaving out a crucial subtext. Someone might be friendly to your face and flame you on-line, and hold both thoughts in their head without their brains exploding.

I think maybe a real functional social community of parents would be necessary to support time away from the computer. A group of parents who agree that time spent chatting on-line is not time spent together. Even I, the very technically inclined kid got together to play basketball with friends, or bike around the neighborhood.

In fact this is the thing that probably makes this question hard for me. Being an only child I’ve never seen interacting with a computer as an experience to be shared. I like to play games alone, occasionally to the annoyance of the little red-haired girl if she wants to play with me on the console. It’s only really been in the last few years with the start of the blog that I’ve been interacting with a larger community of people using a computer, but this is very different from twitter or even Facebook interactions. When I was younger and playing games, I played alone. I read alone, which is probably why social reading feels a little strange to me. Watching TV or movies was a little more social, and has remained so, but otherwise my interaction with media more often than not is singular.

So I don’t entirely understand the impulse to socialize in this way, since the computer has always been a separate entity or tool, even if it’s a tool I like to use a lot. If I’m going to talk to you, I’d rather see you face to face and have coffee if that’s possible.

I don’t necessarily want my children to be curmudgeons like me, but I think there’s value in treating computers as separate from ourselves and the world. We’re moving as a society toward devices being part of our bodies, smart phones and technologies like Google Glass are just the start. My generation needs to make decisions about technology now, so that we’re prepared for whatever is coming.

How do you manage technology in your family?


Filed under Trube On Tech

3 responses to “Thinking about techie parenting

  1. Chuck

    Interacting with other people via computer is as tenuous as a kiss from a cloud. To really “touch” another person (for me) face-to-face is best. Voice to voice is OK if distance precludes. You and I often connect via voice – we exchange information via email. But I don;t count email as real human interaction. But then – I’m older than you and from yet another generation. (sigh)

  2. Ben, great blog. Funny–read this after my post this evening chronicling a conversation with an English prof on my flight home from Chicago. She spoke of the “siren” call of our technology. Here’s the link:

    Glad you keep writing!

  3. Chris

    Nicely put… I hope more people can see the societal cross-roads that we’re at. My views:

    Technology can never replace real, loving personal and day-to-day relationships. I feel that that’s what kids really crave as a foundation. The technology can always come along later after the basic thinking and social skills get developed.

    The rise of Google has just begun to have a major societal impact which some claim is making everyone stupid, for example. When it’s too easy for someone to get what they want, their “mind-muscle” doesn’t need to work as hard and may not be as strong (for instance, I find that I’m calculator dependent). I imagine that without first having strong non-tech skills, an entire generation’s ability to think independently and critically could be endangered. Technology is a very useful tool, but if we become too beholden to it, it can be turned around to control us just like anything else.

    Right now, my toddler’s interaction with technology is to watch educational shows like Sesame Street and YouTube videos of funny dogs. He likes these things, but way more than that, he loves to sit on mom or dad’s lap to read paper books with real pages as well as playing on the playground. I feel that there will be time for him to explore computers/tech when he’s older even if it means he doesn’t have the latest devices like his peers. I guess if read books to my son on a tablet, he would still like it, but it would be because we are spending quality time together. Having the latest iphone only satisfies for a moment, but strong family, community, and faith sustain through the toughest of times.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. 🙂

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