Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Technology: It's What's for Breakfast

Brad Stone penned an expose in the New York Times about how technology is changing the family dynamic in ways great and small.

Several of the examples appear to be normal downstream effects of a tech push supplanting what used to be with what now is - using cell phones as alarm clocks, and laptops for video games and chat instead of the kids parking in front of the television to watch cartoons before school.

But the larger message I took from the article was that parents setting and enforcing boundaries in these areas has fallen significantly behind the technology advances themselves. For example, one dad noted that he sent text messages to his children's cell phones to wake them up in the morning, even though he could walk upstairs and personally jostle the little buggers out of their dreams. That's not the fault of technology - that's a lazy father.

A mother laments that since purchasing a laptop for her daughter, things have changed dramatically. The offspring has missed the bus three times because she's noodling around on her Mac, and where she used to take the dog out each morning for a 20-minute constitutional, the daughter now runs the pup in and out quickly to get back to her Facebook updates.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Before the advent of computers and cell phones, parents struggled with their children when it came to the technology of that era, too. We set strict limits on how long our kids were allowed to use the telephone, and cut off usage at 10 PM. My wife and I used to lay in bed giggling after we would take the phone extension off the hook in our room and then listen to our teen son pick up the downstairs phone and try to make calls, swearing and bitching because it wouldn't work.

Of course, he eventually outsmarted us by switching to the phone that was built in to the fax machine, but the moral of the story is that we had boundaries and we diligently attempted to enforce them. Kids refer to that as "you're ruining my life!" parenting.

Whether it's using the phone or reading a comic book under the blanket by using a flashlight, it's how technology is integrated into the family dynamic that's the key. If parents are setting a poor example by checking their Blackberry devices every five minutes, or by waking up their children via SMS, then they shouldn't blame technology.

If you think things are bad now, wait until we all have chips implanted in our heads.

Image via howtosplitanatom.com

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