My parents were fairly early adopters of new technology as I was growing up. They had a shower radio. They bought us personal Laser Tag sets for Christmas one year. We had an Apple IIe personal computer in the house, so I grew up playing games from floppy disks like Cranston Manor and Zak Mckraken. (Really, if you have a chance, check out these links to screen shots from these games. I am so old.)
I do think it helped me adjust to the remarkable technological advances that have happened in the past 20 years. Do you ever just look at your smartphone and really marvel at the fact that you have a TV, a still and video camera, a computer, and a music player in the palm of your hand? I do. I can’t really get used to it. I am so old.
My parents had to figure out how to teach us to use tools they didn’t have as part of their childhoods, and now I’m having to do the same for my kids. Social media is a brand new frontier for most parents I talk to, and there is no real consensus out there about when kids are ready to enter the world of online relationship building and maintenance. Now that my girl has an ipod touch and a gmail account, we’re testing the waters of responsibility and trying to determine what the limits are. She’s only 11, but I’ve allowed her to get her own Pinterest account despite the “must be 13 years old” rule. I think I will soon do the same for an Instagram account, and possibly Tumblr and Twitter.
I want both the kids to have access to the benefits of these tools for learning, for creative self-expression, and for connecting to the wider world. Navigating social media with grace and intention will be an essential condition for personal and professional success in their world. I’d like social media to be something they learn to handle here at home, with support from Matty and me, before they have to handle it on their own out in the world. I think kids, to some degree, need to belong to the generation they find themselves part of, and that middle school seems like the right time to start learning to use these tools appropriately.
It’s controversial among parents, I know. There is the ever present risk of encountering bad guys or bullies or getting an occasional surprise glimpse of shocking and inappropriate content. There is the very real temptation for them to use the online world (rather than Matty and me) to investigate sex, drugs, rock and roll, and other topics endlessly fascinating to curious teenage minds. Then again, when have kids ever relied solely on their parents for their information about such things?
I worry a bit about that, but not much. Like anything else, I think the key is staying open and honest, sometimes forcing uncomfortable discussions, consistently enforcing rules, and not being afraid to take the gadget away if it’s not used appropriately. Then again, we’re early in the journey here, so talk to me in five years.