Why I Make My Kids Use iThings

As a GenX mom with a fondness for all things Montessori, technology for my children’s use has never been a priority in my life. In fact, I’ve been limiting their screen time since birth. We even pared our cable down to only the basics so I wouldn’t be tempted to turn on Disney Junior to entertain the girls in my moments of weakness.

However, as often happens when you get older: I’ve changed my mind. 

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My first pieces of technology were a digital watch and a portable tape player with a radio, circa 1983. A digital watch was a big deal as I wasn’t allowed to have one until I could tell time on an old-fashioned clock with hands. That black and orange Casio made me feel like a Big Kid. Unless I pushed one of the buttons and accidentally started the timer. Then I just felt dumb. This is probably when my fear of breaking technology was born.

That tape player was also a big deal because I could record songs from the radio. Mmhmm, that’s right: I had the power to harness that song, DJ intro and all, so I could listen to it’s staticky goodness any time I wanted to. That was the last piece of technology I owned until I got a typewriter in high school. Yes, I just called a typewriter “technology”. Well it was electric, I’ll have you know.

When I started college in the fall of 1993, the computers had black screens with green letters. And I was still quite unfamiliar with how to use one. When the spring semester started in January 1994, they had switched out all of the old computers with new “modern” ones. The screens were in color, I think Word Perfect was what we used to type our papers for Comp II. We were ALL baffled, including my professor, who has a PhD from an Ivy League school.

Eventually we all figured it out well enough to produce nicely typed research papers, but beyond that I had no idea what to do with a computer. Whether that’s a product of my major or of being a college student in the mid-90s, I can’t say. But this I know: I was not very employable when I graduated from college.

Gen X parenting

So young. So innocent. So without a job.

Entering the job market without computer skills was still admissible in 1997. AND computers weren’t as complicated as they are today so I could totally stretch my Word Perfect “skills” as far as they could go and still be hired as an office temp, though only for places looking mainly for Phone-Answerers or Alphabetizers. That was OK when I was only looking for a temporary job to supplement my theatre work. But when I had bigger bills to pay (thanks to the worst car luck ever) and needed a job with a more consistent paycheck, I didn’t have much to offer potential employers. Even with a Bachelor’s degree and graduating with honors, I couldn’t get a job.

After doing some truly terrible door-to-door sales work, I somehow got on with a temp agency who worked with one of the big companies in town. I recognized I had been rescued and wanted to hold on desperately to the posh air conditioned assignments filling filing cabinets so I wouldn’t have to return to the life of commissions and walking outside all day. I had a BACHELOR’S DEGREE, mind you. But it wasn’t enough, so off to continuing ed classes I went.

Within eighteen months of graduating from college I had to find classes that taught the basics of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Because of where my education fell on the timeline of technology, I was behind the times already at the ripe old age of 23.

Graduating from college was one of the proudest moments of my life. I had paid for my education without help from my parents and without much student loan debt – my only loan had been used to buy a car. But all of that pride was wiped away and flushed down the toilet when I couldn’t get a job. Had I been more technologically savvy, regardless of what my major had been, I wouldn’t have had that problem.

When my older daughter started first grade after having been at a Montessori school for three years, she’d never used a computer. At my first conference with her teacher, she told me my daughter’s reading levels were off the charts but her computer skills needed some work. And I thought, “Well, duh – she’s in first grade. Who cares about computer skills?” As the school year went on and she stared taking AR tests for reading, I realized: she has to take these tests ON A COMPUTER. Well, duh – it was 2012, of course she had to use a computer. That’s when I started to rethink my approach to technology with my kids.

Technology is intimidating, but it is not the problem. The problem is we need to make rules about technology and we literally have to make them up as we go – for our kids and for ourselves. None of us know what we are doing, but it is our responsibility as parents to model good behavior for our children, whether it be with how we use an iPhone or how we introduce ourselves to someone we meet for the first time.

Granted my girls are still young so I don’t have to worry about texting and Instagram and Facebook for them yet, but I want them to know how to use an iPad, an iPhone, a laptop, a desktop, put together a PowerPoint presentation, Google the answer to a question. I want them to know that anything they put on the internet will be there forever and that anything they do might end up on the internet. I ask them before I use a picture of them for my blog or share it on Facebook or Instagram because I want them to be aware of the caution that comes with this “new” medium.

I want them to engage with these devices, to be curious about them, to wonder how to design an app, to figure out new ways to make these tools part of their lives. I don’t mind if my 4 year-old wants to “play Fancy Nancy” on the iPad because when she does, she is actively doing instead of passively watching. But I also don’t mind if my girls want to watch TV when homework is done, because they have long days at school and who doesn’t like to unwind after a long day? They are not on devices or looking at screens all day long. We have already established this expectation as a family. As their parents, it is up to my husband and me to commit to this expectation and keep their lives balanced.

No, I don’t know what I’m doing — as a parent or as a user of technology. But that’s not going to stop me from trying on either front.

What do you think? What are your biggest challenges when it comes to your kids and technology? Did you read this great piece on GenX parenting and iEverything?