December 30, 2013

TV, Video Games Etc: Digital Devices and The Curve

A Question was posted on the Questions page and I wanted to give it a thorough and thoughtful response because it regards a topic that is important to any modern parent in this digital age. If you have any questions please visit the Q&A page and leave a comment :)

How do you, in your family, deal with the issue of TV, computers, internet, games etc?
There was a time when I could have been quoted saying that television was bad and video games were terrible and dangerous and kids should never have cell phones etc.  Okay maybe that's a bit strong, but I could have said similar because I once felt strongly to that extreme. 
Of course there was also a time when you would have found every new-to-the-market gadget in my living room, fully embracing the digital boom.  Point is, we learn, we grow, we evolve and we alter our habits as our perspectives change - and our perspective often do change as life goes on and we watch our children grow and develop.  It's (if you'll excuse the blatant relevancy) a "Curve" :)

One can very easily spend too much time watching pointless television, gaming, surfing the Internet etc, not to mention the question of age-appropriateness and exposure (or lack thereof) to potentially concerning materials. 

While we do live in a digital age and there is some benefit to embracing that, it would be stupid for us to ignore the concerns as they are indeed legitimate; and there's the rub right there.  I have come to the conclusion myself and for my family, that there is indeed something to be gained and enjoyed in digital/computer/tech/smart-phone etc... and something to of which to be legitimately wary.

The simplest and most brilliant way this can be articulated is this - it is AND and BOTH.  Alas I cannot take credit for that because although I have borrowed this many times since I first heard it, it was given to me by Janet Sternberg with whom I had the pleasure of interviewing for a great episode of Unplugged Mom Radio wherein we discussed just this issue.  It is worth noting that Ms. Sternberg is a former student and research assistant to Mr. Neil Postman, who is the author of Amusing Ourselves to Death and other publications that strongly criticize television and the information age.  It was such a great conversation and I do strongly recommend anyone who has grappled with this to give it a listen because I believe it will be of great use to you.   The overall lesson of course was "AND and BOTH".  That is what I took away from it and that is what I give to you.

Television is horrible and it is entertaining and even sometimes somewhat useful.  Video Gaming is dangerous, potentially harmful, addictive AND it can be entertaining and fun, and sometimes (depending on the game) educational.  In and of itself, it is AND and BOTH.   Smart phones, iPads etc... addictive, a time waster, potential exposure to concerning material... AND can be useful, helpful and fun.  

I think that is the answer, AND and BOTH.   To jump to either extreme does not benefit anyone and really just creates more stress from intentional resistance. 

Now, all this said, I realize that this does not address the risk from the actual exposure to electromagnetic pulse and signals that have been found to be hazardous to the eyesight, brain activity etc... and I'm also particularly skeptical about the potential carcinogenic issues.  These are all legitimate concerns as well.

There are many, very important concerns.  As with many other areas in life - there are many important and realistic concerns, risks and potential hazards.  So what do we do with potential hazards?  We take precautions.  We are careful.  We are smart about our usage and as parents, we supervise, we communicate and we demonstrate healthy usage and habits.

I don't want to ignore the rising current in the "Radical" approach of just leaving the children be and trusting them to self-regulation with devices and technology (and whatever else).   I don't like that ideology (I'd say philosophy, but I think that's too strong of a word for it) because I think it's stupid and self-servicing.  (It's "look how cool I am" parenting).   Children are young human beings, deserving of the same respectful consideration of adults - and that means that they deserve our attentive and experienced input and intervention when it comes to potential dangers and hazards of which they are likely unaware.   It is not disrespectful to supervise your child's use of digital devices (et cetera) no more than it is to supervise their first use of a motor vehicle - a machine that is both useful, fun AND potentially dangerous.

So where are we now right?  You're question is for me and how I, in my family deal with the issues.  Well, this is how it is in our house right now:
I have a laptop, my husband has a desktop.  He runs a business online, I do some of my work on line. 
We have three children.  They share one desktop and that works out just fine.  They use it for lessons, email, creativity and fun.  They play Minecraft and a handful of Lego games.  My daughter also blogs and shares her artwork.   We do supervise the time they spend, but it's flexible and not pre-set; it depends on what they are doing and why etc.  For example if I notice that 45 minutes of Minecraft has passed, I simply make it known that it's been a while, then they usually decide it's time to wrap it up.   If an hour of working on a graphic design for a book cover has passed, I usually leave it be. 

I have a smartphone, my husband does not.  The children have a shared cellphone that can text and make calls only and whomever needs to take it, does so.  This has worked out alright so far.

We own one iPad.  We share it.  This hasn't been a problem.

We have a big screen TV and a smaller TV in the family room.  The children DVR a handful of shows in the family room.  We enjoy, as a family, some old sitcoms via Netflix and a family movie once or twice per week.

We do not own a game system... No - I'm lying. 
Just this Christmas, my son thought it would be cool to have some "vintage" video games so my husband bought him an Atari Flashback pre-loaded with a few dozen vintage games.  We've been having a good time with Centipede and Space Invaders for the last few days.   Other than that we do not have a Wii or Xbox or anything like that.   They do play sometimes when they visit friends and that's fine.

My 12 year old is asking for an iPod touch.  She is saving up for it herself.  My husband and I are not yet on the same page about it, but we've talked about it and we'll get there, together ;)

So the way I see it, these are the keys:
Be flexible - every child is different and therefore there will be different concerns that arise from their individual habits, and this will change as the world changes, as your family changes and as your child grows.
Communicate - express your concerns, talk about the hazards and uses just like anything else in our lives that is both fun, but needs caution.
Supervise - Be a parent - it's okay.
Remember that everything can be and probably is - AND and BOTH
Remember that Learning is on a Curve :)

I hope this helped, and I do strongly recommend a listen to the podcast I mention.  It's really helpful!

Thanks for the awesome question :)

~Laurette Lynn

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