The Digital Dilemma

I admit I think way too much about certain issues. But, when the issues affect my kids, I feel it’s my right and duty as a mom. The digital mania that has seemed to have overtaken our world is provocative for us adults. That shiny new Apple product symbolizes a world of learning and knowledge at my fingertips (until it breaks, cracks, or otherwise stops working–then it’s crap, haha). As a writer and blogger, I work online, learn online, network online, and sell online.

Digital World

But is this way of life right for my kids? Heck, I’m not even sure it’s right for me, and I’m a relatively intelligent, reasoning, sensitive adult (ok, who thinks too much). I realize they’re modeling my behavior and I try to keep tech time within limits in an age-appropriate way. But it’s difficult since everything we do these days seems to require booting up a digital device that is, apparently, smarter than we humans are.

And maybe I’m being a little over-dramatic but lately I’ve been thinking we’re giving our kids, as a society, the privilege of expensive technology toys like iPads and iPods before they’re ready for the responsibility that goes along with them. Are we setting the stage for a new kind of human, one that needs expensive and complex technology to function? We ourselves can’t seem to get very far into our day before we feel compelled to update Facebook with what we found in our belly button or what we think about global warming. So why should our kids perceive things any differently?

I can’t have it all. I want to have this technology at my fingertips without abusing my privilege of using it. But I want my kids to be able to take it or leave it. I don’t want them to become addicted even though I see in clear moments that they are fast speeding down the road to becoming addicted. The siren call of the digital world is just too sexy to ignore.

When I was an 8-year-old kid in 1983, if I’d told my parents I wanted a $200 toy like an iPod, they would have peed their pants laughing. But just last year, my boys wanted these devices and I cooked up all kinds of logical reasons I thought it was a good idea: we were traveling, so they could stay in touch with their friends; they could read books on the iPod; and they were writing a blog, so… it made sense to be able to update from their hand-held; and, well, blah blah blah. After all, if I admitted too much screen time might be bad for them, I might have to admit it’s becoming bad for me.

In reality, the iPods didn’t turn out to ruin my boys, now 11 and 12. The boys were fairly mature about them, didn’t sit fiddling on them all day, and did (indeed) use them for reading free classics we downloaded from Amazon. Mostly they prefer being outside, riding their bikes or Ripsticks.

Brenny Bike at Peninsula

But that was yesterday. Today is a new day. The 8-year-old now wants what her brothers have, even though she’s a couple years younger than they were when they got the iPods. Thinking, “Oh crap, what did I DO,” I told her, “I’ll buy you one when you’re 10, as they were, but if you want one before then, you have to earn the money for it yourself.”

But gulp. Didn’t she surprise my pants off by earning every cent! She had a lemonade stand. She mowed lawns for money. She found a $20 bill one day on the street. And she saved her birthday money from Pap-Pap. Still, that only got her to around $75. Lo and behold, my oldest, Andy, was saving to buy for a mini iPad, the newer and better, and so said he’d sell Laura his old iPod for $75.

I’m very proud of Laura for working and saving and earning this money through her own dedication and determination. But… I am still concerned that eight years old is too young to be able to handle the addicting and alluring effect of holding the Internet in her pocket.

Lemonade Stand

And I have a son who saw something he wanted and realized he can get it by selling something he already has. I’m glad he’s learning the important consumer skill of milking the value out of his second-hand material possession instead of throwing it away. But I regret he’s learned the harsh reality that modern technology–its voracious claws grabbing at our wallets and awareness–waits for no man (um, boy).

Then yesterday a gaggle of boys arrived on my doorstep, as they do nearly every day. Friends. Good boys, smart boys. But I heard through the open kitchen window the excited banter, and it made my skin crawl. “I just got the new mini iPad! It’s the best. Better than the iPod and only $330! Well, that’s not with the case, but that was only $69.99.” And the next voice, “What about the iPhone 5, does anyone have that? What iOS are you running? Do you have wifi? How many gigs?” And on. And on. And on and on and on. I had to leave the room so I wouldn’t hear any more. These mini-humans were talking about spending more money than most people in the world make in a year… and they were throwing around the numbers like savvy businessmen while wearing basketball shorts and torn tank tops and never having worked a full day in their life! What insatiable creatures are we creating? And are we ourselves becoming so addicted to technology that we’ll pay whatever price they ask just to make sure we stay connected?

The boy with the new mini iPad didn’t work to get it. When Andy mentioned he was saving for one, the boy took the money from his birthday savings and bought it before Andy could finish raising the funds. Tough lesson for Andy. That’s how character is built, right?

The Apple website says about the iPhone 5: “Loving it is easy. That’s why so many people do.” I have no problem with people loving technology, and buying it, but shouldn’t those people be the ones who can pay for it themselves? And who are mature enough to responsibly use it?

And what I mean by “responsible use” is something I am still trying to learn myself: using the amazing power of the Internet to learn, grow, and adapt to the modern new world with all its glory while at the same time remembering how to speak, learn, and think on my own, without a device in my hand. If this is the new game, I want to play it to win it. If this is the new game, I want to use it to become free instead of enslaved.

Sometimes I get worked up about these issues and sound as if I have it all figured out. But the truth is, I’m really not so sure about any of this. I’m raising my kids in a time of incredible social change. A dozen years ago, not everyone I knew even had a cell phone. And now just about every person you see in public has a smart phone in their hand.

It’s a new day and a new way and I would be perhaps leaving my kids in a lurch if I didn’t teach them how to live in the cool, modern world. Knowing how to balance being digital with being human is something I need to teach them. But I am very frightened that all of this coolness will decimate our ability to communicate with each other, diminish our creativity, hack our short-term memory skills, and take away our human propensity to look within (instead of through external objects) for peace and awareness.

I don’t mean to soapbox. I just feel that the technology thing has just really been getting out of hand lately for my kids, especially after having lived with the simplicity we did in Belize. I’m getting out a notepad to start brainstorming ways to minimize the negative side-effects of too much screen time. Now that we’re homeschooling and using an online curriculum, my kids need to be plugged in to do some of their learning. Beyond that, I want them to do what they’ve always done: ride bikes, read books, talk to people, express themselves in mysterious ways other than Minecraft, build go-carts, and play house.

Please help, dear readers. Who has suggestions for how we parents can maximize the awesomeness of modern technology for our kids while minimizing potential damage to their blossoming characters?  

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Domini

Writer, mother of four awesome kids, and free thinker, Domini Hedderman is the author of the book, Exit Normal: How We Escaped With Our Family and Changed Our Life, which tells the story of her family's six-month sabbatical in Belize. Since the trip, she and her family are homeschooling and traveling extensively. Her soul mission is to inspire others to live the life of their dreams. Check out her other website at http://www.ExitNormal.com.

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3 thoughts on “The Digital Dilemma

  1. Oh yes, I think about many of the same issues that you’ve brought up here. We’re in such new territory here, with such rapidly changing technology, that I don’t think that anyone really knows the long term outcomes of what will happen with kids raised with such an abundance of high tech toys at their fingertips. One thing that I do, is use the strong siren call of technology as a motivator for my kids. Screen time has to be earned. Reading time, chores, etc…have to be done first, before any screens get turned on each day.

  2. I have a similar worry. My girls are 7 & 9 and so far aren’t too affected by the use of technology but….. My Husband trades online and only last week I started my travel blog so I am on the Ipad more than I would like them to use it. So what type of example are we setting? Do as I say not as I do? I am at a bit of a cross roads so any tips are welcome. Thanks Penny

  3. Dawn, YES, screen time does have to be earned. It’s difficult to keep that discipline going, of course, but so necessary. And Penny… I’m not sure if I have any more advice than you do. I, too, use technology quite often in my work. The kids see me sitting there and think, “Well, Mom’s on the iPad, why shouldn’t I be?” But I’d like to think I’m the responsible adult (haha) making money, whereas they’re kids who just want to play Minecraft. I don’t know the answers. I wish I did.

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