Technology and My Family – It’s More Than Just Games
Technology and My Family – It’s More Than Just Games
I am generally a pretty “connected” person. I didn’t grow up that way – had there been more than the six channels on TV at the time, or even the prevalence of kids programming that exists today, I might have spent even more of my time in front of the boob tube than I did. Had anything like Playstation or Wii existed when I was a kid, it is very likely I would never have left my own house. Phones were attached to walls – and were really only good for talking on anyway. Arcades existed to play games, but they were always smoky dives populated with big, loud, scary teenagers, so it was rare that I could eschew “real” activity for the virtual as a child.
Sure, digital activities did take up increasingly more and more of my life – even with six TV channels there were enough cartoons and sitcoms that I was able to glue myself to the screen for hours on end. Pong, Atari and the Commodore 64 changed my life as I entered my tweens, bringing simplistic yet distracting games right into my home. As I moved on to true teenager status I found myself in those same smoky, dingy arcades (and Laundromats and the backs of bodegas) pouring quarters into the machines that could offer real graphic excitement and social game play (even if that social aspect was merely trying to guess whose initials those were next to the Top Score).
With my kids now, everything is different. And while my wife and I tried to control how our kids would be exposed to certain entertainment technologies, even those have changed since we brought our first son into the world a little over seven years ago. Smartphones, iPads and Nintendo DS systems all allow our kids access to things that we had thought would only be accessed through our computer, or Playstation, just a few years back.
Of course the kids want to play games – the world is a game to kids, and even the most serious activities can become some game in their own minds. This drive on their part certainly makes certain parenting things easier, or harder. Discipline, for example, is quite simple – “no iPad for a week” is a standard enough punishment, and after the kids have to forgo all of the iterations of Angry Birds for a few days they do seem a bit more contrite. Reward, too, is easy enough – a new game for the DS or even renting a movie at Blockbuster can be a real motivator for these two little video-addicts.
I can be pretty confident taking my kids places, knowing that if they start to get bored I can sit them down with my phone and let them amuse themselves for a while – if not playing games then watching YouTube videos, making their own little movies (almost always comprised of them as superheroes, fighting imaginary bad guys) or even doing a video chat with some relative or other.
But nowhere is this technological boon more useful than in the area of education.
For years I had been looking forward to answering all of the endless questions kids ask – “Why is the sky blue?” “Why does it rain?” “Why do you have nose hairs instead of boogers?” I saved books like “4000 Things You Should Know” (my elder son’s favorite) and “The Guinness Book Of World Records”. But ready access to the Internet, and today’s modern apps, have ensured that there is never something I don’t know the answer to.
When the kids were fascinated by the planets, I used my iPad app “Planets” – an app which not only gives you images and basic information about the planets in our solar system, but which has a sky map allowing you to find them (or other stars and constellations) based on your location and time of day. So we can, for example, point out a bright “star” in the dusk sky and determine that it is indeed Venus.
When we talk about where Uncle Greg goes to school, we look at our Maps app – following the trail down from our home to North Carolina, zooming out to see where it is in relation to, say Florida, and zooming back in to see the mountains and rivers and even the Google Earth photos of scenes near the college.
When we talk about evolution I am able to look up numerous sites showing family trees, or showing images of how wolves evolved to look like our family dogs, or how people and apes (and those same family dogs) are related in the long run.
My kids are still young – using their phones to track their location is something I don’t need to worry about yet, and looking up their friends on Facebook is not yet an option. Still, I can let them hold the GPS as we take a car trip, or show off the Facebook page of their cousins in Korea to help introduce them to new people, places and things they won’t have the opportunity to meet for a long time.
It’s important to monitor them, to make sure they get out and get some sunlight, some fresh air. I make sure they don’t “plug in” for TOO long each day, knowing that a lot of their activities (especially since a friend showed them they can enter things like “P-O-O-P” into the Search box on YouTube) are just going to rot their little brains. Still, their ability to read, spell and strategize is getting very strong. And their technological chops are already surpassing those of their grandparents, even the relatively tech-savvy ones.
I look forward to the technology evolving, and how I will be able to use some of those tools in helping shape the people they are to become.