Should parents be scared of kids using technology?

I read this blog post today in which the author describes his daughter, who is under 2 years old, and her ability to use and interest in his iPhone. The final paragraph poses interesting questions about children and technology:

It’s hard to know how, as parents, we should handle our kids’ relationship with technology because theirs is the first generation born in this technology obsessed age of Facebook. Is this just part of being a 21st century kid? Or is there something we should do as parents to curtail this?

My first instinct was YES, this is just part of being a 21st century kid and NO, we shouldn’t curtail it. I decided to comment on the piece, because Matt and I both have a healthy interest in tech that has led to a generous supply of gadgets strewn about our home. When I comment, I tend to fly past other comments so as not to be influenced in my thoughts about the post. Then I will go back and read them. Here’s what I said:

I love tech and gadgets. I want my son to love them too. He’s three and he has his own iPod Touch which we bought used to protect our iPhones that are far more expensive to replace. He’s been very good at taking cre of it. He’s also careful with our iPad. We’ve taught him these things.

Here’s my take on it: kids *need* to learn these things. It’s going to be essential for their success in this life. Tech is only going to get more and more integrated in our lives. To cut them out of that would be a real disservice.

That said, they also need to know how to put it down and turn it off. To establish boundaries that they keep – perhaps better than their parents who are the first generation to have these things incorporated into their work/personal lives.

After going back and reading the other comments, I started to wonder if I have it all wrong. Words popped out at me from the comments: worry, scary, misgivings.

iPods are good for more than just playing games. They make nice hats too.I don’t get it. Why is this scary? Do we not remember our parents reacting the same way when we instinctively knew how to use the first CD player we ever touched without reading a manual? I’m pretty sure there was a time in the late 1800s when parents said, “I don’t see why Billy needs a phonograph. If he gets one he’ll spend all his time playing with it. I don’t like these new-fangled gadgets the kids always want.”

And a hundred years from now, parents will be saying, “No, Billy, you can’t have a jet-pack. You’re still too young to fly to school.”

Those parents who dealt with the phonograph handled it. My parents who had the VCR to contend with handled it. We’ll be able to handle the iPhones and I’m happy to leave the jet-pack question to my great-great-great-great grandchildren.

I used to be the non-mom who swore up and down that I wouldn’t let my kids play video games or watch TV. Well, Brandon’s (almost) three and I’m not too proud to admit that I’ve broken both of those vows - many times.

You know what else? We also turn off the TV. And the iPod. And the iPhone. We play with Brandon - inside and out. We take him places around town and he’s slowly learning to play with other children.

It isn’t scary that a child so young can unlock an iPod/iPhone and use it. Children learn by watching and it only takes a couple of times for them to see how mommy or daddy do it - and voila, they do it themselves. Brandon unlocked Matt’s iPod Touch for the first time when he was about 18 months old. Now he has his own (bought used) and he knows how to pick the music he wants to listen to (he also figured out how to delete it), open any app he wants and play the games I’ve installed for him.

I think the iPod Touch is just about the greatest kids’ toy ever. And you know what? For the price of about four or five Leap Frog interactive educational toys, I can buy the (used) Touch along with countless interactive educational games that he loves that is compact and extremely portable with zero loose parts to lose and scatter all over the world. As a bonus, I’m teaching Brandon to love Angry Birds, much to his father’s chagrin.

As I said in my comment on the blog, teaching children how to set boundaries around the technology that they will grow into adulthood with is what our biggest challenge is. Trying to bar them from any access to technology is futile and, in my humble opinion, probably not the wisest decision. Children need to learn how to use technology. They need to learn about the negative sides, like spam and other deceptive practices that are used. Parents can help their children navigate these issues, teaching them along the way. The end result that I hope for is a child who has a healthy interest and attitude toward technology, gadgets and the time spent using them.

How do you deal with gadgets and children in your house? Do you think restricting gadget use entirely is more beneficial? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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I recently read this post by Maranda of Momicon and I love her perspective and the balanced way she applies it with her kids. Tech, gadgets and games are a legitimate interest - just like playing sports and other childhood activities.

The problem with being a geek

I’m not an excessively big spender. I buy clothes when I need them, though rarely at full price - I’m kinda cheap that way. I haven’t bought anything new for my house in about a year. I do buy books frequently, but I’m willing to cut back when it means I can get new tech. My biggest weakness is buying things for my son, but even that is waning. There’s just not anything he really needs, so I am finding it easy to resist all those cute clothes and toys these days.

My biggest problem is that I LOVE technology. My husband LOVES technology. We both carry “smart” phones. His is a brand new Blackberry from work and I have my three year old, well-used Treo. We’ve been super conservative with buying tech stuff over the last few years. In fact, since my Treo, the only new tech we’ve bought was a netbook. This is our thing. There was actually a time right after I got my laptop when we both had our respective laptops on while we were laying in bed and were instant messaging each other. Yes, that’s a little over the top - it only happened once. Call “tech” our hobby. Right this minute, I’m sitting at my laptop writing a blog post while Matt sits next to me at his computer surfing the Web looking for a new computer.

Yep! You read that right - he’s specing out a new computer. The dry spell is going to end soon. We are both starved for new technology. He’s needed a new PC for a long time, so he’s going to order one. I am jonesin’ for a new phone so bad I can hardly stand it. So, probably in a few more weeks, I’ll be sporting a lovely new iPhone if that’s what I ultimately decide to go with. (I’m about 97% sure right now.)

So, you’re probably wondering what the problem is. Well, I’ll tell you. Technology is all about innovation and new “stuff”. One can never keep up with the latest new thing out there – unless you’re made of money (I’m not) – and so having an interest in tech is expensive. But nothing beats that excitement and anticipation of getting a new piece of tech, bringing home the box and ripping it open. It’s like this great adventure to learn what it does and how it does them. The new PC is lightening fast. The new phone sends an email and browses the Web and even has GPS, unlike your old phone that could barely manage to text.

If you buy portable tech (like my future iPhone), you get to take it out there and show it off. Or maybe it’s a really cool camera that turns anyone into a quasi-pro photog. How great would it be to show off your amazing pictures on Flickr or Facebook!? (By the way, that’s going to be one of our next tech purchases – a camera. The one we have now is six years old. It still works well, but the picture quality is the pits.)

So, there you have it. I am a geek and so is my husband and we’re both okay with it. As long as we don’t have to wait overly long for our next tech toy.