Category Archives: technology

6 Things My Kids Have Gained From The Internet And Social Media

I remember when the internet was born.  I was in my 20’s, newly married, and thought it was the Coolest. Thing. Ever.  The ability to browse for information, talk to new people, and communicate through email… all from the safety of my home, in my pajamas?? An introvert’s dream.

And as the internet grew, I grew with it.

I remember when everyone had dire warnings about meeting up with people you connected with online.  Stranger danger!  Now, all of my closet friends are people I met online.

I remember when everyone was afraid to shop online, for fear that it wasn’t secure and that their credit card numbers/identity/life would be stolen.  Now I shop for everything online… from prescriptions, to Amazon, to Etsy.  We even order our groceries online.

My kids never knew a world without the internet.  How lucky they are!  Like it or not, we live in a digital age now, one in which everything you can imagine can be learned, bought, consumed, transmitted, created, and communicated online.  It doesn’t replace 3D life of course (and the intricacies and experiences and connection that go with it) but good grief does it enhance it.  I feel so fortunate, and so glad for my kids, that there are such endless opportunities to explore, to learn, and to connect, right there at their little fingertips.  For years the big joke has been the math teachers from years ago saying, “You need to learn to do this manually!  You won’t be carrying around a calculator in your pocket.”  Now, not only do we carry calculators in our pockets, we carry powerful computers.  Portals, if you will, into an entire other world, a world that is seamlessly integrated into our physical lives.  Pretty cool, right?

This is 2017.

Which is why I’m surprised and well… saddened… at the number of people who still want to so tightly control and limit when it comes to the internet and social media.  At the number of negative, fear-mongering articles that still come across my Facebook news feed.  At the amount of disdain aimed at apps, programs, and websites that allow kids (and adults) to express themselves in creative ways.

There is still so much FEAR.

But it can’t be overstated… this is the world we live in.  The internet is only going to continue to grow, so it only stands to reason that we should equip our kids to grow with it.  Case in point: A friend of mine has a son who was rejected for a program he really wanted to take.  Why?  Because he didn’t have a big enough digital footprint.

Now, is there yucky and dark and stuff to potentially stumble onto on the internet?  Sure.  Does  learning to navigate social media in a healthy way require an involved and connected parent, someone who’ll stay close and present as they figure things out? Of course.  But keeping them away is not the answer.  Especially in a time when there is so very much for them to gain – important things for them to gain! – by letting them explore and learn from the digital world and everything it has to offer.

Here are 5 things my kids have gained or are gaining from the internet and social media (and this is by no means a comprehensive list!)  In no particular order:

1) Knowledge  This is an obvious and broad one, but it couldn’t be left off the list.  Remember growing up with those sets of Britannica Encyclopedias?  Well, the internet is just like a million different sets of those encyclopedias.  On steroids.  In Disneyland.  On the fourth of July.  It is a constantly updated, ever expanding, veritable treasure trove of information.  Want to know how far a person sprays when their sneeze goes uncovered?  Google. (200 feet, in case you’re curious).  Want to see a detailed map of the world, of your country, of your town?  Google. Can’t remember the name of the guy in that movie with the song you like? Google. Want to learn a new language?  Google. Want to learn how to knit, how to build a shed, how to bake a souffle, how to apply a perfect cat eye with eyeliner?  YouTube.  I’ve finally learned to stop asking my kids, “Wait.  Where’d you learn that?”, as the answer is always and inevitably somewhere in their travels on the interwebs.  There are websites for everything.  There are more formal classes if that’s what they like (lots of which are free!).  There are tutorials and history lessons and peer-reviewed articles. As long as you can figure out the right search terms, you can learn about anything your heart desires.  Which brings me to,

2) Critical thinking skills Learning to navigate the internet means learning the nuances of searching and browsing in general. And you may not have looked at it this way, but these are critical thinking skills that are easily transferred to other areas in life.  These are the skills that help us to be clear in our thoughts and in our questions.  These are the skills that help us to be discerning.  To learn how to scan, discard, and sort information. To think about what it is we’re learning, and how it does or does not apply to our lives. To make decisions about what we do or do not want to be filling our heads, and where we do or do not want to spend our time.  It teaches us to ponder, to question, to go deeper.  To jump down that rabbit hole of vast, intense learning, and smoothly and expertly ride down all the never-ending little trails and offshoots it has to offer, stopping only when we’ve had our fill, and picking it all up again (or not) when we are ready.

3) Enhanced relationships. My daughter is the biggest example of this, but no one in this family is excluded.  The only extrovert in a house full of introverts, she lives for and thrives on her play dates, and theater practice, and sleepovers.  But when she can’t be with her friends in person?  Skype to the rescue!  She learned to navigate Skype at an extremely young age, and my house is always filled with the sounds of her and various friends chatting, playing games, and singing together.  And if a friend does not have Skype?   No problem.  They just email.  Dozens of emails shot back and forth, in real time. (This is a great starter email for kids, if you’re looking for one. It’s parent-moderated and extremely user friendly) And my boys?  My oldest has been in two long-distance relationships online.  He regularly chats with, and games with, friends from all around the country.  He watches movies, virtually, with friends who are thousands of miles away.  My younger two boys recently made friends with two sisters at our unschooling conference.  They spent hours and hours and hours together at the conference, playing board games, and strategy games, and bluffing games  (This feels important to mention, as some detractors of giving kids freer reign on the internet think that it causes them to be unwilling/unable to play and interact in person, without a screen in front of them.  Not so much.)  They live just down in Tucson, so meeting up in person is not at all beyond the realm of possibility, but in the meantime the internet – and Discord in particular – have allowed them to continue to grow their friendship online.  They have spent pretty much every evening together, chatting, laughing, and playing cooperative games together.  And for me personally?  I have one invaluable group of women that laugh with me, cry with me, and give me honest advice … all mostly within the confines of a private Facebook group.  And last month, one of the hardest months I’ve had in a long time, I had one friend who just refused to leave me alone (in a good way).  She doesn’t live particularly nearby, so she texted and messaged me daily.  To check in.  To encourage me.  To push me.  To remind me to get dressed and take care of myself.  None of that would have been possible if we didn’t live in a digital world.

4) Conflict resolution. Lest I give the impression that digital interactions are always smooth sailing, this is the real world.  Stuff happens.  I’ve helped my kids navigate disagreements, deal with unkind behavior, and understand the nuances of playing and interacting with large groups of strangers.  I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer that they go out into the world already having this foundation of knowledge to stand on, and letting them interact digitally allows them to do just that.  They’re able to figure it all out at home, with me by their side… whether it means involving me or my husband to help sort the problem, or talking things through, or standing up for themselves, or – in some cases – utilizing that “block” button.  My kids are far more adept at skillfully and confidently handling any interpersonal problems that crop up than I ever was (heck, than I am at the present time as well), largely because of their ability to practice online.

5) Entertainment. People are really weird about this one, as if there is no inherent value in being entertained for entertainment’s sake.  But as a lover of all sorts of creative arts, AND as someone who’s worked really hard to learn how to protect my mental health, I can tell you that it’s not only okay to let yourself be entertained, but vital to a balanced and healthy life.  And the internet makes it so easy!  From streaming movies, to satire websites, to the ubiquitous funny cat videos, they is no shortage of ways to relax, reset, and enjoy the hard work and creative output of others.  My 13 year old loves to cook, and he’s been watching a YouTube channel that is part comedy, part recipe tutorials.  I love walking in to the room to find him laughing over its latest funny antics.  (Side note here:  As parents, we’re not always going to understand or appreciate the same sorts of things as our kids.  That’s okay!  We can still enjoy it through them, and appreciate their appreciation, and share in their excitement.)  It always breaks my heart to hear a parent talk about their child’s interest as “stupid” or “a waste of time.”  If they find it valuable, it’s valuable.

And finally,

6) A creative outlet to express themselves. You know those apps like Facebook, and Instagram, and Snapchat, and Musical.ly that so many people love to hate, and choose to fear?  They can be amazing tools for expressing yourself, for interacting and sharing with your peers, and for staying connected with others in a fun, real-time, meaningful way.  If I wasn’t able to follow my kids on social media, to see what they have to share, and how they choose to express themselves, I would be greatly missing out!  It has allowed me to see and appreciate a whole new facet of their personalities that I might not have otherwise gotten to enjoy.  It gives them an easy way to create.  To communicate.  To stretch their social muscles.  The argument, of course, is that those apps are dangerous.  And I mean, can they be used in harmful ways?  Can they give them possible access to people with less than positive motives?  Well sure.  But that’s not unique to digital interaction!  When I was in junior high, I was horribly bullied.  I once had a group of girls chase me into the bathroom, where I hid in a stall, and they proceeded to lean over the walls and spit on me.  I had no “block” button.  And I wouldn’t have had the confidence and emotional fortitude to use it even if I did.  My kids though?  They have confidence and emotional fortitude in spades.  And they possess this confidence in part because of apps like this, not in spite of them. The answer isn’t to live in fear and forbid these apps (because, let’s be real for a minute, if they want to use them they’re going to find a way.)  And would you rather that decision be an acrimonious one, filled with resentment and secrecy?  Or a transparent one, happy and respectful?  The answer is open communication. If you’re worried about a particular app, ask your kids about it!  Do they use it?  Do they want to? How does it work? What do they hope to get out of it?  My kids are always more than happy to talk to me about what they’re using.  And because I know that 1) they have a healthy amount of self-respect and personal boundaries, 2) they’re skilled at navigating interactions in a healthy, constructive way (see point #4), and 3) that they would be comfortable coming to me if they ever did encounter a problem, I truly don’t worry.  Instead I’m genuinely happy and grateful that they have so many fun ways to communicate and express themselves, and that they are so savvy in a world that didn’t even exist when I was their age.

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The internet isn’t going anywhere.  It’s something to embrace, to enjoy, and to learn to use responsibly.  It’s not the boogeyman. It’s a valid and useful (and important!) tool, for both the present and the future.  In the very wise words of my friend:

 


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Filed under fears, technology, unschooling

Computers, Technology, and the Language of the Future

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I was at Target the other day (buying a new broom, because my current broom was about a jillion years old and produced far more frustration than it did actual cleaning) and I overheard a conversation between a Target associate and a rather befuddled-looking older gentleman in the electronics department.    In a discussion that was somehow both sweet and amusing, the kid working at Target was trying to explain the concept of digital user manuals to the skeptical customer, who wondered why the item he was purchasing didn’t come with a paper manual.

“More and more companies are doing away with the paper manuals completely.”

Skeptical look.

“You don’t need them.  You can download the entire manual online.”

Skeptical look.

“Or, if you have a specific question about the product, you can just Google:  “How do I……….. ”

Skeptical look.

I didn’t stick around long enough to hear whether or not he was ever convinced, but it’s a conversation that I imagine takes place in various forms at Targets and cell phone stores and Best Buys every day, all over the world.

Life is just done differently than it was 50 years ago.  Even 20 years ago.  TEN years ago!

My dad, who’s in his late 60’s and is a very intelligent man, can use a computer to do basic things like send email….. but only if my mom helps him get to the “compose an email” screen first.

And when I last saw my 88 year old grandmother, she asked me to send her copies of some pictures I was taking.  “But you have to send them in the mail.  None of this air mail (aka email) stuff;  I don’t even know how to open it.”

Not that it’s unique to older people.  I’m 41, reasonably adept at handling a computer, and I still balk at learning something new.  I stayed on MySpace long after everyone else had fled to Facebook.  And now that Facebook is comfortable and familiar and I know how to use it, I’ll probably stay there too, long after everyone else has moved on to MeWe, or Ello, or whatever the Next Great Thing happens to be.

Learning new things technology-wise as an adult can be intimidating.  I get it.

But my kids don’t have that problem.  They’re so computer literate, and learn new platforms and programs and website navigation with such ease, that it’s both astounding and inspiring.

This is life in 2015.

We cannot be afraid of it.  This is education.  This is networking. This is communication.  This is the workforce. This is entertainment.  A whole big wide digital world at our fingertips.  We’re doing ourselves a huge disservice if we’re not allowing ourselves to take advantage of all – or much – of what it has to offer.

The world is only going to get more technology-heavy, not less.  My kids think it’s crazy that I remember my family’s first VCR.  And that if we wanted to watch a show that came on at 8:00 on a Friday night that we had to actually be at the TV at 8:00 on a Friday night.   And that early cell phones were about the size of a brick.  And that the internet didn’t even exist until I was in my 20’s.  And that there was no such thing as Netflix or Google or iTunes.

I can’t even imagine what amazingly cool technology – still just a pipe-dream of some go-getting entrepreneurial kid in his parents’ basement – is going to exist for my future grandchildren.

Life is different now.  We need to know about different things now.

Which is exactly why I can’t understand the push to actually limit a child’s use of technology.  I see parents stressing out about their kids spending enough time practicing things like handwriting, which is becoming less and less necessary;  or even hand-writing math problems, another practice that’s changing in our current society, since despite what your teacher may have told you as a child – look at that! – we all DO carry calculators around in our pockets.  In what I can only see as a stubborn refusal to move forward, people want to cling to the old, and only dole out the new in tightly controlled, highly restricted little portions.  But limiting a child’s “screen time” (which – it has to be said – is one of the stupidest and most meaningless phrases to come out of the 21st century) is sort of like planning an extended, indefinite stay in a foreign country, and then limiting how much and how often your children can study the language.

“Of course you can learn Spanish!  But only for a half an hour a night.  Maybe for an hour on the weekend.  You can earn an extra ten minutes a day if you do all your chores.  But if you screw up?  That’s it, I’m taking away all your Spanish time away until you can earn it back.”

I just can’t understand limiting access to the very language in which your child needs to be fluent.

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As for me and my house, we’ve chosen the opposite tack.  Whether the subject at hand is Spain or computers, I want my kids to be able to completely IMMERSE themselves in it.  Play with it. Explore it.  Live it.  Learn it and learn from it and understand it.

I want my kids to be all in.  I want them to be eager learners, enthusiastic explorers, and lovers of new information.  I want them to be confident in their abilities, humble enough to ask for help when they need it, and brave enough to take on even the most daunting of tasks.

I want them to be primed and ready and raring to go, so that when the time comes for the next new overwhelmingly complicated bit of technological advancement (and that time will come… again and again and again) they’ll take it in stride.  They’ll be able to look square in the face of the next generation’s cell phone or email or digital User’s Manual….

and they won’t be afraid.


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Filed under parenting, technology, unschooling

“I Feel Like All They Do Is Sit In Front of a Screen”

Photo credit:  Michael Cramer

Photo credit: Michael Cramer

A few days ago, I got a message from a new unschooling mom   She had concerns about one of the most common things that trips up new unschoolers:  “screen time.”  This is a portion of that message, along with my response.

 

About 6/7 months ago we lifted all restrictions on screen time, in the past the kids were allowed to watch up to two hours of TV and that was about all the screen time they got. Now that they are not limited I feel like all they do is sit in front of a screen. It’s not just tv (or shows) but also games and such. I guess my problem is that they seem to have lost All other interests. I keep waiting for them to tire of it all but it doesn’t seem to be happening. More often than not they don’t want to leave the house to do activities. I offer them many choices and opportunities to do other things but they just don’t seem interested. I guess more than anything it makes me feel like a shitty parent for not being able to engage my children and truthfully, I miss them!! I freaked out a bit yesterday about the whole thing and took all screens away and we had a great day! They did things I haven’t seen them do in months and they enjoyed themselves. I want to help them be able to find some sort of balance, but I just don’t know how.


A few different things really stood out to me in your question.  First, you only lifted your restrictions a few months ago, and it is so very, very normal for kids to “binge” on something that was previously limited.  They don’t know when/if you’re going to take it away again. And if you (to use your words) freak out and take them away for a day here and there, it’s sort of like starting the process all over again.  So their intense interest may still just be trying to get the most out of it in case you take it away again.  Second, even though you’re technically allowing them to use those things as much as you want, you’re still carrying a lot of “baggage”, for lack of a better word, about them doing so. You’re waiting for them to tire of it, you’re wanting them to do something else, you feel like a shitty parent. That comes through as resentment, even if it’s unintentional.

It’s great to offer different things, keep the lines of communication open, make suggestions, etc.  The problem comes in when you’re emotionally invested in the other options, instead of truly meeting them wherever they are – which in this case, sounds to be pretty darn happy watching TV and playing games.  🙂  When you say that you want them to find balance, you’re referring to what *your* version of balance looks like, ie: less screens, and their personal balance might be something very different from yours.  And it might not be!  But they’ll have a hard time finding it when they’re getting the message that what they’re choosing to do is somehow less valuable than what mom would choose for them to do.

My advice?  Make peace with the screens.  Recognize the joy and learning that they’re getting from them.  Find out what they’re enjoying.  Enjoy it *with* them.  Stay close by so they can share with you.  Watch their shows with them.  Play their games with them. Bring them yummy snacks.  Chances are, they *will* get their fill, and start taking you up on some of your other suggestions (once they feel more confident that their TV shows/games/computer will still be there for them when they want them) But in the meantime, how much nicer will it be – for you AND for them – to appreciate where they’re at and what they’re learning and what they’re finding enjoyable, instead of stressing out about it and wishing they were doing something else with their time?  Don’t feel like a bad parent!  Instead, use that feeling as an impetus to connect with them where they’re at.

They will be okay.  And so will you.  Give it time, and lots and lots and patience.

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Filed under Q and A, technology, television, unschooling

Unlimited Screen Time?

Almost two weeks ago, Paxton (11 at the time of this writing) jumped up playing basketball, took a bad landing, and ended up severely spraining his ankle.  For the past 13 days he’s been on the couch and I’ve been playing nurse.  Injury not withstanding, I’ve really enjoyed this extra time I’ve suddenly gotten with him.  We’ve watched countless movies together – everything from Bruce Almighty to Lord of the Rings to a documentary about the Titanic.  We’ve watched plenty of TV together too, including a several-episode-long marathon of Criss Angel’s magic.  The TV and movies were fun while they lasted, but he eventually asked me to bring him a laptop.  We then watched videos on YouTube, shared and compared our various wanderings on our respective computers, and had discussion after discussion about all of the above.   He has since moved on to teaching himself card tricks, and he has spent the past 48 hours practicing and perfecting his skills.

In our house, we don’t limit or otherwise try to control television, movies, computers, or other types of “screen time”…. even when no one is injured.  All of that technology is simply another tool we’re all free to use, or not use, as we see fit.  Sometimes our house is humming with televisions, computers, and video games… and sometimes the only humming comes from the kids.  Yesterday (on a rare Sunday at home) no one so much as glanced at a TV until evening came.

When I first became a parent, screen time made me all kinds of uneasy.   I wanted my kids (well, my one kid at the time) to read a book, or do a puzzle, or play outside, or use his imagination… not sit in front of a screen.  I was self-righteous in my resolve, telling anyone who asked that we didn’t do much TV… that in our house we focused on learning activities.  And how much could he possibly learn from a SCREEN?

Well.  As it turns out, a lot.   As I gradually let go and lifted my limits, I realized that those things I had feared not only didn’t hamper Spencer’s learning, but added to it immensely!   We still read books.  We still did puzzles.  We still played outside.  He still used his imagination.  But we’d also opened up a whole new world to enjoy together, one that we still appreciate and share… without limits and without conditions.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One of the most common questions or objections I get from unschoolers new to the idea of unlimited screen time is that whenever they’ve tried, it’s made their kids unruly or agitated… or as this one reader states, it has just been a “disaster”:

I love the idea of unlimited screen time, but every time I go with it disasters happen. The kids (5 and 3) start bouncing around on the couch, biting each other, kicking, etc. It is worst when they have been watching movies all day so I can’t help but associate it with the screen time.

So why the disaster?  Why, if it works so well for us (and for lots of other families) do so many people try it only to pronounce it a failure?  Here are a few things that could be happening, in no particular order:

1. They’re bored.  They’re watching TV or playing a video game not because they particularly want to, but because no better alternative has been presented or offered.    They’re feeling pent-up or frustrated, so it comes out in their behavior.  It would come out in my behavior too.  Maybe they’d rather be outside, or baking cookies, or drawing a picture, or just hanging out with mom.  When that’s the case, it’s not the fault of the screen.  It’s simply a matter of being involved, maybe doing a little detective work, offering suggestions, and offering yourself.

2.  They’re hungry.  Or tired.  Or in need of a break.  Again, not the fault of the screen.  A lot of times, kids (and adults for that matter) will get really engrossed in something and not listen to their bodies. They miss cues of hunger or fatigue until they’re to the point of grumpy.   Ideally, as parents we should step in before that happens.

3.  Parents are coming into it with preconceived ideas about how it will affect their kids.  In other words, they’re expecting their children to behave in a negative way.  In the same way that many parents who think, “Oh if he has those cookies now, he’ll be bouncing off the walls all night” will then observe said bouncing off the walls, and feel validated for being right… even if the behavior was completely unrelated.    Even if the perceived “hyper” behavior wasn’t so unreasonable after all.  We tend to see what we want to see.

4.  The child/children have just gotten really engrossed in what they’re watching or playing, to the point of wanting to shut out what’s going on around them, and being frustrated by distractions and interruptions.  I know a lot of people think of things like TV watching as passive activities.  You just sit and stare and become a zombie.  I have never found that to be case.   For me (and for my kids who choose to watch TV) I think it’s often the opposite.  I get very involved.  Certain shows and movies make me come alive.  I fall in love with the stories,with the dialogue, with the writing, with the timing.  And just as with any other activity that I’m really immersed in…. whether it’s watching a movie, or reading, or writing, or creating something… when I’m interrupted or have to stop, I feel frustrated.   And while as an adult I can generally sometimes handle that frustration and transition without making too much of a fuss about it, it’s twenty times harder for a child.

5.  Maybe it really does affect your child differently than mine.  (There’s my little disclaimer:   I don’t pretend to know the inner workings of someone else’s child or family)  If that’s the case, I strongly believe that there’s still a way to come to a peaceful and respectful solution that takes everyone’s needs and wishes into account, without being controlling and falling the way of using screen time as a punishment or reward.

Our lives are richer because of technology to be sure :: said as she types on her laptop with high speed internet while simultaneously watching a sci-fi movie with the 11 and 7 year olds ::  At the same time, because it’s treated as no more or less important or valuable as any of the other tools at our disposal, the kids can all take it or leave it.

Right now, they’re leaving it.  The movie got too confusing, and there are important card tricks to be done.

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You might also want to read No thank you, we’ll stay plugged; and Blame the Video Games


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Filed under learning, life, technology, television, unschooling, video games

No thank you, we’ll stay plugged…

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Addiction –  noun –  the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.  (From dictionary.com)

The CBS show, The Doctors says:  “Studies show that one in 10 kids is seriously addicted to videogames and media, and those who watch more than four hours of TV per day are at greater risk of heart disease as they grow older.”

I heard this on their show yesterday (it’s also printed on the synopsis on their website) and aside from an initial feeling of annoyance that television is being vilified again… you know what?  Not annoyance.  Boredom.  I’m bored from repeatedly hearing about this kind of study, and frustrated that they don’t have something more worthwhile to share with us.  Aside from that, what  immediately comes to mind is questions.  Lots and lots of questions.  Exactly what kind of “studies” did they do?  Over what period of time?  And on whom?  Are these all school children who spend most of their day behind desks before they come home and play videogames or watch TV?  Did they include homeschooled kids?  Are they otherwise active?  Do they have other hobbies?  What is their diet like?  What is their relationship with their family like?  How are they defining “addicted?”

Quite simply, there’s not nearly enough information there for me to take it seriously.   But what’s really disheartening to me-  about this as well as similar anti-media messages – is that it is based in fear.  So much of what we hear about television, video games, and media in general is so very steeped in fear.  They are evil.  They rot your brain.   They make you violent.  They make you hyper.  They make you lazy.  They cause blood clots and heart disease and obesity.  Not long ago, I left an unschooling group after being told that because I did not limit screen time, I was “encouraging slothfulness, which is the worst kind of sin.”  Fear.

I never want to make any decision for my children based on fear.  I never want to place limits on tools and resources (yes – televisions, computers, and video games are resources) that are as valuable as any other, simply because of some vague – albeit widely held – misconceptions about how ‘bad’ they are.

I don’t need to know about facts, figures and studies to be able to learn from what I see and experience in my own home.  In my house, my kids are as free to use the computer, play video games, or watch television as they are to do anything else.  And the truth is, they are not intelligent and creative in spite of it;  they are intelligent and creative in part because of it.  Computer skills in general are an invaluable, and in most cases necessary, facet of our adult lives. We use computers for everything from gathering information to communicating with others to paying our mortgage. Video games are great for practicing cooperative play, critical thinking, math, science, and problem solving.

And television?  I could write an entire series of posts about what we’ve learned from television, and still barely scratch the surface.  Television brings an entire world into our living room.  We don’t have the means to travel to obscure and beautiful countries… but we can watch Bear Grylls do it.  We don’t have the experience or the facilities to scientifically test the validity of widely-held myths… but we can watch the Mythbusters do it.  It can show us how to cook, take us inside an operating room, and let us feel like we’re a part of a police investigation.  Or a commercial fishing trip.  Or a journey to the bottom of the ocean.  As for those ‘other’ shows… the sitcoms, the dramas, the next top model bachelorette housewife idols of America… The great thing about modern day television, and the advent of DVRs, is that we get to choose what we do and do not want to watch.  And aside from entertaining us and making us laugh (which, if you ask me, is no small thing in and of itself), even shows like this are often a catalyst for great conversations with the kids:  about people, about life, about the difference between reality and scripted television.   Learning is truly everywhere.  Television is not an exception.

One of the reasons that a lot of people give for not allowing television is that they want their kids to use their imaginations;  they want them to be more focused on creative play.  But the two are not mutually exclusive!  By all accounts, my kids are some of the most creative kids I know.  My 3 year old can (and does) spend an entire afternoon playing with a leaf, or a baby doll, or her play kitchen.  My 7 year old has never met a science experiment or a magic trick that he did not like.  My 11 year old just took it upon himself to start fashioning swords out of pvc pipe and foam.  My 14 year old likes to take apart and rebuild nerf guns and lawn mowers and engines just for fun.   These aren’t mindless zombies who are slaves to electronics… but smart, well-rounded kids who recognize media for what it is:  no more or less than a really cool and useful tool;  one that we’re lucky to have.

Could we live an unplugged life?  Sure.  We do it every time we go camping (and it should be noted, not one of us suffers “severe trauma” because of our cessation) We could live without electronic media. We could live without books too. And music. And poetry.  And running water.  But just because we can, doesn’t mean it’s somehow preferable.

We live in a world that allows us to surround ourselves with all kinds of things from which to learn:   from people and places and experiences, to books and art and music, to computers and video games and televisions.   It wouldn’t make sense to me, living in 2011,  not to avail ourselves … to learn from, to grow from – and to enjoy – all of the above.


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I’m Officially Old

Spencer is fourteen as of two months ago. Last night, I was sitting at my computer, minding my own business, when he came in and asked me a question. This is not unusual for him – or for any of my children – especially in the evening. They’re often wandering in and out, asking questions, chatting for a little while, then going back to their own projects.

What was unusual was the question. It was a big question. It was the question.

“Hey Mommy, how old were you when you started dating?”

Now I, of course, answered with immediate and unflinching honesty.

“Twenty seven. And I was 30 before I had sex.”

No, what I really told him was the truth: that I’d officially started dating when I was around his age.

He was pleased with this information, and didn’t miss a beat before asking, “Well when can I start dating?”

“When you’re twenty seven.”

But the fact was, I didn’t have any magic age for him. Like anything else, I told him, it would happen when it happened. We’d deal with it together when the time came. That answer seemed to satisfy him, and he wandered out again… only to return about 18 seconds later.

“Mommy. How do you do that thing on Facebook? Where it says so-and-so is in a relationship with so-and-so?”

I laughed a little bit. I couldn’t help it. He wanted to know how people made their relationship “Facebook official.”

“It’s just an option in your profile. You can go in and edit it, and then it just shows up.”

He thought about that for a second. “Does the other person have to be on Facebook too?”

“No,” I told him, “You can say you’re in a relationship with anyone.”

He left again. I chuckled. It’s funny, this new age of dating. It’s when he came back for a third time to ask, “So if I meet a girl, is it better if I get her email, or should I just get her number so I can text her?” that it hit me:

I’m old.

Not only am I old, but I’m also profoundly and hopelessly out of touch with the times. I have no idea how people date in 2011.   Now if he’d asked me how to fold up a note into a neat little triangle, I’d have been able to help him.  If he’d wanted to know about slipping said note into the slats of his beloved’s locker, I’d have been all over it.  I could have even helped him make a mixed (cassette) tape of songs I’d recorded from the radio, and shown him how to wrap yarn around his class ring so it’d fit on his girl’s finger.

But Facebook?  Texting?  Emails?  None of that existed when I was his age.   My gosh, was it THAT long ago?  I’m 37, not 87!    But alas, it’s true.  It’s a whole new world out there.   I was 14 over 20 years ago.  And because I met and married my now-husband when I was still in my late teens, I never knew the joys of waiting for a returned email (only the joys of waiting for a returned note to be passed in between gym and science class)  Never knew what it was like to have a picture instantly text to me (only what it was like to bring my film to the one hour photo developing place a week after I took them)  I never knew the sadness of having 200 friends watch at once as my relationship status changed in a blink from taken to single (only the humiliation of having to tell everyone, one at a time, until the word had passed… that yes, I’d been officially dumped again)

Is one way better than the other?  Was I missing out on the wonders of communication that were yet to come?  Or is the other way around?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that the realization of this gulf between my teenage son and my teenage self made me… tired.  The whole thing was making my head spin, and it was making me tired.

I’m old.

But the conversation wasn’t over yet.  I’d already gone to bed to watch TV by the time he came to find me again.   “Mommy.  How do I set my phone to have a different ringtone for different people?  So like when I have a girlfriend, I can have a special song just for her?”  And finally I had a good answer, the answer that would give my poor old tired brain a rest from trying to wrap itself around the fact that the last time I was dating there was no such thing as Facebook, George Sr was president, and gas cost $1.50.

The phone that Spencer and Paxton share used to belong to Mike, and I have enough trouble with the intricacies of my own phone, let alone someone else’s.  So it was with honesty – and relief – that I tenderly looked him in the eyes and said,

“You’ll have to ask your father.”  And so he did.

And I went off to sleep, dreaming of a simpler time.


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Technology

Last week, we were over at some friends’ house, and I was watching as my friend helped an older relative send an email on her computer. My friend got her to the correct screen, typed in the subject line for her,  then clicked in the body of the email so she could begin typing her message. Barely a minute later, she needed assistance again, as she’d accidentally scrolled the screen down and lost what she’d already typed. My friend helped her retrieve her message, and sent it for her once she was done typing.
I say this not to pick on her. My dad is the same way. Lots of people’s dads (and moms and sisters and brothers and friends) are the same way. Not everyone is computer literate, and I understand that.  Except… 
I kind of don’t understand that. For better or worse, technology plays a huge role in our daily lives.  From using the internet to find information, or make connections, or be entertained… to communicating through emails, texts, and videos… to using Google maps, online calendars, and GPS units.  
I blog,
pay my bills online,
use social networking,
read the news,
digitally edit pictures,
and otherwise gather, share and store information…. from words to pictures to everything in between.
The vast amount of information and ability that’s at my, and my children’s, fingertips, is staggering.  I couldn’t imagine not utilizing it just because it’s intimidating, or new, or different.  I couldn’t imagine not learning how to use it, and in fact embracing it, for everything it has to offer.  
It’s finicky at times, to be sure. It’s frustrating. It sometimes gives us too much information, and it’s sometimes arguably one fine double-edged sword.  But I could never deny how much the internet, and technology in general, has enriched our lives.
My boys are all extremely competent on a computer.  Tegan – one month away from turning three – has recently learned how to work a mouse, and is loving the whole new world that’s been opened up to her:  playing games, coloring pictures, learning about shapes and colors and letters.  She learns about all those things off the computer as well, but she’s also learning and practicing a skill that she will use all her life, in a myriad of ways.  Probably in ways that you and I can’t even imagine now.
Look at that concentration.
I’m sure like the rest of us she will learn to love it, and at times hate it, 
but she will never be afraid of it.


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Filed under technology, Tegan, unschooling