June 6, 2010

Digital Nation: What's a Mom to Do?

I found this Frontline episode through a friend's facebook page and it addresses one of the few topics that I don't have a know-it-all attitude about. One of those horrible topics that makes me want to run and hide. One that I'm sure my adult children will someday come to me and ask why I raised them the way I did and attribute their therapy bills to the choices I made on this very topic. The DIGITAL AGE!!!

Joe and I began our adventures in parenthood with very defined views on things like television and video games. But the lines we drew slowly softened, blurred, and moved. We realized that while we proudly abstained from most forms of technology in the face of friends and family whose children could load a video game and play it with proficiency at the age of two, their children were developing the skills that the universities and employers of tomorrow will desire and our kids are endearing bookworms who are confounded by the concept of the computer mouse.

Were we depriving them of new and necessary skills? Were we debilitating them and feeling proud of our strength and resistance while we did it?

So we broke down and got them a Vtech Vsmile Motion (kiddie version of the wii) for Christmas. They love it despite the fact that they completely stink at it. In fact, it is so alarming to see how much they really don't get the concept that we are really glad we got it. We realize that our kids are seriously tech-dumb.

But then I always have this nagging thought that says, Skyla, their brains are still developing and this will no doubt have some effect on the way they develop. I had never seen any research on the subject before this Frontline, but knowing how other activities can alter the development of the brain, I assumed this could too. And the weirdness that I unearthed about the elements of conditions like ADD while I was in college had a hand in my thoughts too.

Anyway, Joe and I are constantly weighing the pros and cons of having tech stupid kids who can concentrate versus having tech savvy kids who may have lost some other capacities as a result. Who can know what's best?

While this show confirmed my ideas on brains being altered in their capacity to concentrate, it also demonstrated, to a degree, society's willingness to bow in accommodation to the techno gods, even among the ranks of MIT and Stanford. So, what world are we preparing them for?

While we have come to understand the value of a tech savvy kid, we're only willing to get our feet wet. Hannah Jane blogs once a week as part of her writing and grammar lesson. They each get about a half hour on the Vsmile a week (assuming they have cleaned their rooms and kept up with their school work for the week). And Hannah Jane has figured out how to use the camera function on Joe's cell phone while the boys play Brickle on Barb's Blackberry almost every Friday. That's it.

I really have no idea what the right amount of technology is for a kid these days. Will universities want kids who can theoretically (you'll understand if you watch the show) multitask and feel capable of jumping from thing to thing because that's all they can get, or will they value the few kids who can focus on a task for long periods and may be a slow tech person because that is increasingly hard to find. Since I can't know, I try not to worry about it. But sometimes I just can't help myself. What are you doing in your family? I'd love to know!


  1. Ted Taylor6.6.10

    Good questions. I've tried to read up on these things -and I don't think we have all the answers yet. So you and Joe will have to rely on consultation and your values.
    Here are some thoughts.
    1) Being able to read beats all other abilities in importance for being ready for the future. You are taking care of that one well.
    2) The ability to sustain attention and focus significantly helps for academics and many careers.
    3) TV screen time is the worst for the brain from what I've read. The brain gets into a state that is neither awake nor asleep (vegging out) that significantly affects the ability to attend and focus.
    4) Research also showed positive effects of Mr. Rogers neighborhood and Sesame Street, so apparently TV can be designed to be good - in moderation.
    5) Flashy videogames that have constantly changing screens appear to train people to need constant change and excitement to sustain attention. Not so good for young brains.
    6) Nevin spent hours doing Reader Rabbit, Math software, and chess software and other games. Those seemed to really teach key academic skills as well as problem solving.

    So I think it isn't a simple yes/no on technology. It is the continuous process of figuring out what you think is best.

  2. Ted, I'm totally agreeing that's it's more complex than yes or no. It's such a rapidly changing world, it'd hard to anticipate exactly what you're preparing your kids for.


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