Monday, March 15, 2010

Writing Prompt: Children and Technology

I was inspired by a recent writing prompt over at Literary Mama, and though I didn't submit my piece, it was interesting for me to reflect on the impact technology has had on my young children and on our parenting. I am married to a computer geek, so we are wired more than many families, yet my mother is also a librarian and I am an environmental educator. I find our children moving between the paper and the digital ages.

I am interested in what others have found - how does technology impact your parenting? How do you find a balance between today's digital world and the world we grew up in? Post a comment here, or write something longer on your own blog and let me know. The following is my essay, "Paper and Digital".


I sit in the living room with my laptop, putting my feet up for a moment. My son is playing in the playroom at the other end of the house. Suddenly, a chat window pops up on my computer. “What are we having for dinner tonight?” he asks me. Gabriel is 7, and we are already having mundane daily conversations via chat. He also knows how to do a video chat with Grandma and Papa. He edits videos he makes with the computer’s camera, creating special effects and adding music and credits. He has figured this out himself, and now he is teaching his three-year-old sister how to use a mouse and play the paint program.

My children are becoming dexterous with technology. They see Mom and Dad and everyone else using computers and cell phones and DVRs and digital cameras, and think that there is nothing difficult about it. They are growing up intertwined with the digital world, like vines wrapping around a multi-trunked tree, tangled and inseparable. They don’t know anything different.

My husband and I try to be very aware of how much technology infiltrates their lives. We do want the kids to be completely comfortable in the digital world. But I also try to balance that influence with a healthy dose of nature and art. I limit the amount of screen time they get, and since they were babies we have spent as much time as possible getting out into nature. I want the pull of the natural world to be at least as strong as the pull of the technological. I also try to make lots of opportunities for art and doing things with their hands. Art has become an important outlet for stress for them, and a source of great joy already.

We have read books to them since their first days of life, before they could even see the pages or hold their heads up. We routinely max out the library cards. Gabriel learns very well on his own, teaching himself about nature and physics and house plants and drawing – anything he is interested in, really. Every flat surface in our home has at least one book on it, and the bookcases are piled two rows deep in places, the wooden shelves bulging downward under the weight. The kids stay up after we put them to bed, headlamps on. Books get lost under the covers (along with scissors, crayons, pencils, sharpeners, sketchbooks, and other miscellaneous items – but that’s another problem altogether.)

I see my children moving in a world filled both with paper and digital ideas. I watch them navigate, moving seamlessly between media. I feel grateful that I haven’t lost them to the digital void yet, and keep trying to guide them in finding the elusive point of balance in their lives. What amazing opportunities await them! I wonder how much the world will change as they grow into adults, how different things will be when we set them free to make their own ways in life. I hope they’ll continue to chat me when they are in college, and send me drawings and go hiking with me, too. Then I’ll feel I’ll have done my job well.