Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Navigating Technology with Children

Yesterday, I joined my son on his class field trip. Since the bus was leaving right after school started, I drove him to school. After dropping off my daughter at daycare, we were getting back in the car to head to his school. My son started to get in on the 'wrong' side of the car. I made a comment that in a few years, when she no longer uses a booster seat, he'll easily be able to sit on either side of the car. Then, I said but by then, you will almost be old enough to sit in the front seat, I think. It's either 12 or 14. His response was, "I think it's 12, the year before you can have Facebook."

As a parent, one of the challenges that I face is when to let kids have what technology (and where)?

When I was a kid, I can remember that my parents tried to keep things 'even' and our 'big' Christmas gifts aligned to this approach. I can remember my frustration with the fact (seems rather minor now, but it was a big deal to me at the time) that I got my stereo when I was a freshman and got my CD player as a junior, yet my brothers got both as freshman. What I failed to recognize is that although the CD player was 'newer' technology. It wasn't yet a standard part of packaged stereo systems when I got my first stereo, but by the time my brothers got them you couldn't buy a packaged stereo without a CD player. Not only that, my first CD player was a single disc player and they got changers.

With the way that technology is evolving today, I expect to have that type of experience amplified in my children's life.

For me, one challenge is that unlike you get a bicycle at age 5, because that is when I got mine and that is when you are physically ready to learn the mechanics of riding, there aren't clear guidelines or experiences in my life to support what is the right age for technology. The first family computer at my house was one that my dad had brought home from work. I seem to recall that it was around my junior or senior year that we got it. I went off to college with no computer and relied on my roommate's computer and the computer lab for writing papers and checking e-mail (of course, only my classmates had e-mail - so I didn't get many - as an aside, I had over 80 e-mails come in while off from work yesterday to join the field trip). I got my first cell phone when I was working as a co-op. The plan didn't come with minutes and I paid the monthly fee to provide the safety of having a phone for my 1 1/2 hour drive from my hometown to my apartment for work.

The field trip yesterday made me think even more about it. There was an hour long bus ride for the field trip and many kids brought along 'technology' to pass the time. I saw Gameboys, iPods, iPads, and iPhones in use by this group of third graders. They were playing games and singing songs, fully entertaining themselves with their technology.

The reality is that our kids are growing up surrounded by technology - not just at home, but at school too. I remember there being one computer in my sixth grade class, I remember learning to program the TRS80 in junior high math class (there was one lab), I learned to type on a electronic typewriter (somewhere between manual and word processor), and I remember blue ditto copies of papers and overhead projectors using clear sheets that the teacher wrote out ahead of time. Now, they have computers at every level. There are a few in the classroom and a computer lab and a mobile computer lab. The teachers have touchscreen smart boards that they project on.

I want to balance the simple of being children with the reality that they need exposure to technology to be caught up with classmates. I like that technology can give me peace of mind. I like that my son, with his iPod and access to his friend's wireless network is able to send me iMessages to 'check in' when he is at a friend's house, so I know that things are okay. I want to take advantage of the great learning applications that are out there, but balance that with keeping them safe from all of the bad stuff that is lurking out there.

So, when is the right time to allow children access to technology? When is the right time to allow them to have their own technology? When is the right time to allow them to 'take' their technology with them (to their room, to a friend's, to school, on the go)?

So far, we have made a few moves in the world of technology, but I expect many more questions will come up soon.

The kids share a laptop that sits in our family room. It is a place for them to play games, research a report for school, and send e-mails to Grandma and Grandpa.

The kids each have a digital camera that they got when they were about 4. It is interesting to see what they capture on their cameras and to see things from their level. The nice advantage here is that we don't have to print any of them - like we did when I was a kid. Their cameras also allow them to capture video. Watching their videos also shows a lot about them and their viewpoint.

We gave them their first CD player that they could use when they were about 5. It is a little 'boombox' style player that sits on the bookshelf. We gave them books with read-along CDs to go with it.

My son got his first iPod a few years ago and when it broke, was upgraded to an iPod Touch. Now, he has a docking station with speakers so that he can listen to his iPod now instead of CDs. I think that he was seven.

The first question at hand is when does my daughter get her first iPod. Does she get his old one and he get a new one or do we buy the new one for her?

When do we allow them to have a cell phone? Do we have them take our house phone (which is a cell phone hooked up to an xLink), when they need it or do we get them their own? This is a mix of responsibilities - not losing a costly cell phone, using the phone responsibly, etc.

Do we allow them to join Facebook at 13, as long as we are their Friends?

Do we stick with a family room approach for the laptop or do they eventually get their own laptops or are allowed to take the shared one up to their rooms?

What has worked for you? How do you navigate technology with your children?

This post shared at Works For Me Wednesday - although I guess this is more of a backwards Works for Me since I am seeking input.


Betty Roberts said...

That's crazy that third graders have iPods iPhones and iPads, I remember when I was younge I didn't get a stereo until middle school and a cd player in my freshman year and I didn't have a cell until I was 16. My little guys like to play with mummies iPad all the time, but I don't think I will be purchasing one for them. I think that there's an age for everything I don feel comfortable buying a 3rd grader a cell phone, a laptop, or an iPad. I'm sure I will let them use devices at home but definite,y not at school