I love electronics - would be ironic if as I was writing on a laptop, a blog that goes into the ether, I would say I did not. I think the internet is endless possibilities and the library of Alexandria rolled into one, apps and new devices fascinate and lure me and most of all I actually do like the connectivity.
I am not a luddite in any way and have never been. I shared with my father a love of new inventions. I loved the new stereos he liked because they sounded better and had more options, I liked that he had an 8 track player in his car because now you could take music with you, I had a walkman when they came out, the disc camera and polaroid, my cameras got smaller and then went digital. I loved my boom box with it's dual cassette deck that could record songs one from another as well as from the radio, man that was time consuming you had to always have it on record and pause, fingers poised like in a Western gun battle to push that pause, releasing it so you could record whatever song you wanted from the radio. Skills I tell you. I remember our beta player, Pong on the atari, remote controls coming into our house and my VCR. My dad got me my first CD player and it was a prized possession in my first apartment. Are you seeing it now? I had car radios whose face plates came off so they did not get stolen in the not so good old days in NYC. My AOL dial up on my Radio Shack computer, color screen, was worth giving up my phone line for and when I discovered music on there - buffering so slowly that all songs were start stop sing sing stop stop stop sing sing stop, it was magic. I obviously like the social media sites and embrace the changes.
However, while I have appreciated the advances for my work with them as well as for my personal use, the cell phone is probably my favorite The iPhone really did change how I use the phone, it is a mini laptop in so many ways. So with that history how could I possibly have such a conflicted relationship with these devices when it comes to my kids?
I told a friend recently that we have created a problem that we, ok me and a lot of people I know, cannot really control the way we wanted to. The kids should have access, we owe them safety instructions on the internet and social media with it's forever memory of your stupid moves along with it being a bully pulpit, and they are well poised to use it as it evolves because they have it. A skill they need. We give it to them also in public spaces because let's face it you at the next table thank me because they are quiet and the parents can enjoy their dinner without running around and minimizing the possibility of meltdowns (minimize because we all know you may still get one). This is all fine, they like it, we like it until we don't.
In my house we have rules around electronic use, much like most families, and at dinner time out or in it is put them down while we are eating. This works well but then sometimes when they are with their friends it becomes harder. It should be easier right ? I mean they have their friends but their friends are on them too. How are they going to learn conversational skills? I may have found meal times the greatest source of my fights with my dad for he had a captive audience and I can still feel the lump in my throat of the food, anger, sadness that got stuck there when it was not a conversation but his issues parenting me. I also found they were the best times for when I learned so much from him and my mom. I learned to talk to their friends and to mine. I love learning and find people who are knowledgeable and who can talk on almost any subject just swoon worthy.
We get aggravated with our kids for not putting the screens that we gave them down and I struggle to not lose my patience and make the "meal knot in throat" moment by discipling them for not putting the damn things away. I watched them this weekend with friends and they found ways to play at the beach, talk about their games and even play card games without the glow of the screen lighting up their good looking faces, so it can be done. In the arsenal of parenting, which is so hard but amazing, we now need to help balance what is and is not acceptable electronic use.
These are amazing devices but they are not replacements to human interaction and as they get ready to go back to school I want to make sure my boys have their supplies along with their ability to meet new kids in their classes and socialize. They learn to be kind and how to make connections which probably will lead to them exchanging ways to meet electronically. To my boys I say "Please put down the electronics not for good but just for long enough to remember that talking to other people is what led to the creation of most of these innovations and they will be replaced but the friendships you form or forgo will not, nor will the time you could have spent talking your grandmothers who will not be here forever and of course me (hey only child here of course there has to be an about me part) and my time with you which I treasure".