As I write at my computer, my nine-year-old daughter is on Skype with a friend who lives on the other side of the country. Together, they are working on a web page that showcases their passion for hamsters. She figured out how to construct her webpage using the documentation on Google Sites. She’s a pro at finding info using Wikipedia, she loves searching for images using Google, she’s even put together some crude computer animations. She shares her homework with her teacher and collaborates on writing and editing with her peers, using Google docs. She keeps an electronic calendar. She types with 10 fingers. I’ve deemed her too young to text (and doesn’t have a phone), but she regularly emails local and far away friends. As I think about it, she heading right into the description of “screen-agers” from this Seattle Times op-ed article  that I read over the weekend: computer saavy, but lacking “old-school” skills they need to be successful in the workplace, such as the breadth of library research as opposed to the instant Google search, or nuances of interacting with others in person rather than through a screen.
Should I be alarmed? Well, part of me is. But -- I’m sure many other parents share this sentiment -- mostly I’m just confused: how much is too much? I, of course, want my daughters to be computer literate, and I know that this will be a far-different and deeper literacy than I will ever experience myself. My daughter has a natural ease with computers, and I’m sure this will lead to her skills blossoming exponentially, building as a snowball rolling down a hill, faster than I can follow. I come back to a couple simple thoughts about my role as a parent in guiding my daughters’ through their use and understanding of technology to try to instill intellectual growth and learning in her computer usage in the same way that I try to steer her values in her non-computer-oriented pursuits; and to (try to) ensure that her computer literacy does not come at the expense of other skills, such as interacting with others, reading, knowing the joy of making things, enjoying the outdoors. Computers are so easy; they sop up any extra time. The question, like so many parenting questions, is a shade of grey: where’s the happy middle between the amount of computer time she wants and what I think might be appropriate?
After I wrote the paragraphs above, my Dad called, and I mentioned to him that his granddaughter was building her own webpage. “Wow,” he said. “I wish I was born just 10 years later than I was. I would love to be able to do that, but it’s just too hard for me to figure out now.” I reminded him how instead his generation, more so even than mine, really had the chance to experience the world, something kids in this era don’t do to nearly the same extent. “Yep,” he replied, “unfortunately the world that kids have today is in a much sadder state.” What a hard balance it is, on many scales.
By the way, we got our kids ipod nanos for Christmas. This is my compromise in their requests for their own ipod touches or ipads (we do have family ones of each device, the kids are the main users). But I wonder how much longer we can hold out.
How do you balance your children’s use of technology? Hope you all have well-balanced holidays!