3.01.2011

The Technology Dilema

I was talking with a group of ladies the other day.  All were moms of middle school-aged children.  Since my boy has only one short year left at the elementary school (Yikes!), I always love hearing what they have to say.

The main topic of conversation centered around the realization that many of their children's peers seem unable to to form real, face-to-face relationships and have a hard time expressing complete thoughts.  I wondered if they had come to any conclusions about a possible cause.

According to these women, one of the major factors is too much time spent online and texting.

All of the women expressed concern that many children interact with their peers solely via Facebook, text messaging or by playing video games  (i.e. Xbox Live or the Playstation Network).  These same children reportedly seem uncomfortable in many social situations.

Another issue that has apparently been cropping up is the students use of texting acronyms both in their schoolwork and everyday conversation.  It is not uncommon to hear kids on the phone with their parents saying things like, "OMG, Mom.  I'm JK."  Translation:  "Oh my gosh, Mom.  I'm just kidding."

One mom complained about a group project that her seventh grader was currently working on.  Apparently one of the girls in his group offered to type out the written portion of their project.  When she brought it to school the next day, the woman's son noticed that she had typed U, R, B4, CUZ and NE instead of you, are, before, because and any.  The girl couldn't understand why the boy would ask her to retype the paragraphs using "real words.

This whole debate is not new.  In fact, I touched on it a little bit about six months ago when I wrote about my boy's sorrow over not having a cell phone. I have also come across several reports in just the last month discussing these very same issues.

Two articles were particularly interesting:  OMG, When Did We Start Talking Like TXT MSGS? and Generation Net:  The youngsters who prefer their virtual lives to the real world.

Both discuss the way technology is changing our culture.  I tend to have mixed feelings on the subject.  On one hand, I am a huge fan of technology.  My generation's first real interaction with computers and cell phones came in our late teens and early twenties.  I can still remember navigating my 286 laptop using DOS commands

My boy, by contrast, easily navigates the world wide web, has a strong working knowledge of the computer and has no concept of a life before cell phones.  There are literally dozens of iPad Apps that are specifically geared towards toddlers.  It is truly a different world from when I was a child.

The use of technology, both as an educational tool and as part of the required curriculum, is something that I wholeheartedly support.  I am thrilled that my boy is required to create Word documents, do research projects online and even turn homework in via email.  I would even go so far as to say that a typing class would have been a much better use of class time than the countless hours my son spent trying to master cursive handwriting.

This world is technology-driven.  It is our job as parents to ensure that our children are equipped to function in this new reality. That said, we have to find a balance.

With all these advances, the line between being technologically savvy and dependent is becoming blurred.  I find it ironic that many of gadgets and websites that were created to "make our lives easier" or "help us stay better connected" are, in reality, making us more isolated and our lives infinitely more complicated.  Society seems unable or unwilling to put healthy boundaries in place where technology is concerned.

Let's be honest.  How many adults do you know that spend every waking moment, tied to their iPhone, Blackberry or computer?  Let me be clear, I'm not pointing a finger at people who are required to use technology as part of their job.  My hubby's work often requires that he spend a large percentage of his time online.  It is often an unavoidable part of life.

The people I'm talking about are the ones you see, sitting in a restaurant, choosing to spend their meal texting, tweeting or on Facebook rather than engaging in conversation with the people sharing their table.  Even more alarming is the reality that this lifestyle is becoming normal for our children. 

I don't claim to be an expert.  I am a thirty-seven-year-old mom who is trying to navigate this ever-changing world just like everyone else.  Isn't it every parent's desire that their child be happy, healthy, and successful at whatever they decide to do?  Don't we all want our children to have a better life than the one we had?

My concern is that in our efforts to give our children the metaphorical "hand up," we go too far and diminish the importance of nurturing their emotional well-being.  Our desire to give our sons and daughters "all the things we never had," often clouds our judgment.  We forget to ask ourselves if all this stuff is really necessary, age-appropriate and beneficial in the long run.

Here's my question...  Why can't we have a little of both?  Isn't it possible to enjoy the many benefits of all this technology and still allow our kids to be kids?  Can't we demonstrate that it is great to stay in touch with people via Facebook, but that it is no substitute for an afternoon spent in the company of dear friends?  Shouldn't we teach our children how to use technology to its fullest without allowing it becoming their master?

What are your thoughts?  I would love to hear what you have to say.

3 comment(s). Leave yours!:

helen said... Best Blogger Tips

It's a mad, mad, mad world of technology but it's here to stay. I agree with you, Mrs. Ha. I think, like for most things in life, it comes down to balance...accept its existence and influence on society, learn it, use it, appreciate it and do not abuse it.

Michelle said... Best Blogger Tips

I am a huge reader, as you know, and I think that is one thing that can help create the balance - reading! Reading GOOD books (or anything of quality) can provide good models and fruit for discussion (with other people) and can serve to get your kids away from a computer or TV screen. It can be an escape but can also be a jumping off place for disscussion, finding something in common with another, make your grammar and writing better potentially!

gretchen from lifenut said... Best Blogger Tips

Great thoughts here, and something I think about often.

My kids don't have cell phones. No Facebook or Twitter, either. They use the computer for homework or Webkinz or Google Sketch. We have a PS3, an xbox, a Wii, DS, and PSP. We have a Mac, a PC, and a laptop.

Those things are here to stay. We've tried to keep a balance by only allowing video games from Friday after school to Sunday at 5pm. Of course, they don't play that entire time.

Sometimes, I think we are a bit too strict with the no phones, no Facebook thing.

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