Finding digital balance in the family

  • Family
  • Thursday, 17 Jul 2014

How do we help our children make the most of technology without becoming too consumed by it?

Once, I dreamt of kids who played only with wooden toys. My kids would appreciate nature and these toys would become heirlooms.

Well, it was a sweet, but short-lived dream. The kids do like nature, but the toys have long since been chewed up by our foster dogs. While I did manage to shelter the eldest from television and technology for longer than most, the youngest already has a Minecraft account at seven.

However, I draw the line at toddlers in pushchairs staring at iPads and children who are fed while some YouTube video flickers on a screen. It is all too common a sight; a family gathered at dinner and each one stares at a screen, engaged in whatever it is toddlers, children, teens and adults find so riveting that face to face interaction is deemed a chore.

Realistically, we cannot alienate ourselves from technology and gadgets. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to Waze and Google Maps for helping me to get around. We’ve gone on impromptu city walks guided by Google and I’ve driven kids to all over the country in record time, thanks to Waze.

I love that I can chronicle the special moments; how my 10-year-old daughter still wants to bring her dolls on that crazy bike trail her dad takes her on, the youngest losing his milk teeth (as he yanks them out and demands the tooth fairy visit immediately) and how the eldest cuddles his adopted fuzzies (that’s ferrets to the likes of you and I).

The kids are understandably mesmerised, too. Some of their friends have phones smarter than a cabinetful of ministers. Some have their own laptops or tablets.

“Why do we have to share?” they sometimes ask.

“When can we have Facebook accounts, and Gmail and Instagram? I want to comment on YouTube!”

The sad faces are hard to deny, but we’re glad we hold out because I cannot count the number of times they’ve been complimented on how engaging they are. They ask questions, they are observant and they actively speak to other people.

I think they need to be more mature and aware before they are let loose in the vast universe of cyberspace.

I already find Minecraft worrying enough; we compromised by getting my husband to play it so he could better understand what the kids would be getting into.

So how do we find the middle ground?

For a start, they can only play at the table after dinner if the adults are going to sit around and chat. They know they have to eat what is served and eat it cheerfully.

At home, the same applies. If we have no guests, it’s usually reading together rather than gaming. They are rarely allowed to play in the car unless we are going on a long road trip. Otherwise, looking out the window and learning to observe your surroundings can be entertaining and useful. They have e-mail accounts, but I have the passwords too, so I can have a look any time.

My husband and I curate the web and often introduce them to sites we think would benefit them; Khan Academy, Ted Talks, TedEd, Brain Pop, Wild Kratts and so on.

YouTube has been a source of concern, but the older two are quick to point out to each other and the youngest if something seems inappropriate.

The computer is also just outside my bedroom so I can hear what’s going on. And I can easily pop out to have a look if I hear anything that would concern me.

The kids are also taught that using the “electronics” as they call it, is a privilege to be earned. They do their chores and schoolwork, clean their pets and walk the dogs. They know they must ask permission and they understand that if I call, they must respond immediately.

My husband and I are careful to set good examples. We do not shoo them away when we are at the computer, though they know they must sometimes give us a few moments before we can stop what we are doing.

We also try not to look at our phones during family time unless it is to help with answering a question the kids have asked; today it was “How many seconds are there in a year?”

We take photographs obsessively, but we do not upload every last one. We do not have satellite television, but we do go to the cinema.

I think that the middle ground has been a bit of a battle to find and it shifts as the kids grow, as new technology becomes available and as we learn to better apply our knowledge.

Our generation has been part of such an amazing technology explosion, so we have to be prepared to learn and adapt constantly.

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