Monday, February 21, 2011


1. a : the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area : engineering
b : a capability given by the practical application of knowledge

I try to be respectful of my daughters' privacy on this blog.  Not because they read it regularly (they only read the posts I write about them and allow them to read), but because I respect them as individuals and I think their mistakes are theirs to share.  But we've had some recent parenting experiences that have made me feel the need to assess our approach to technology as individuals and as a family.  I think I'll need to share an outline of those happenings to explain my current thoughts on technology.  So forgive me if I cross the line and share too much about my children's actions.  Know that I do so to help our family navigate the arena of technology, not because I want to shame them for their behavior.

In the fall, I got a call from one of my daughter's teachers about a note she had intercepted from my daughter to another student.  As a result of this intercepted note, I found out that my daughter had wanted to know more about sex and had therefore googled it.  You can imagine what she then found.  Frankly, I should have seen this coming as her parent.  She's very independent, equally curious and takes care of herself.  She saw this the way she sees most everything else - I'll just find out what I want to know.  We had a long talk - I explained the details of what she wanted to know.  And there were big consequences: no computer access for three months, writing lines and doing additional yard work.  I thought she got the point.

Then, last Friday, another daughter asked me to put her iPod on the charger.  On my way to do that, I decided to check out her recent usage.  We had warned her that we would do this, so I didn't feel it was a violation of her privacy.  What I found were texts referencing a boyfriend and websites whose very names made me blush.  J and I talked with her and found out she had been messaging with a "boy" (who knows this person's actual age or gender) and he had used terms that she didn't understand.  So she looked them up herself.  Very secretively, I might add.  Earlier on Friday, she had told me she deleted an app from her iPod, so she did eventually draw a line for herself.  But she did so without ever explaining what was going on to J or I.  This was, in its way, a bigger surprise than the previous technology scare because this daughter is more compliant and generally less prone to break the rules.  She knew her sister had received big consequences, so it's a new behavior for her to choose to commit nearly the exact same offense.

All of this has resulted in a few things for our family.  More stringent family computer rules, yes, but also a desire to really think about what technology means - and should mean - for our family.  As I drove to the library on Saturday, I pondered whether I should cut myself off from technology after all of this.  Should I drop my facebook account, ignore this blog, stop reading other blogs, cease writing book reviews, only look up recipes in cookbooks?  In short, should I become a total Luddite?  This was what brought me to the idea that we should assess the role of technology in our lives.  I think this blog serves a positive purpose in my life - it allows me to work on my writing, to think through issues, to step away from my day to day life and get a bit of perspective.  I think writing reviews of books I've read makes me read more closely and enjoy books more thoroughly.  These are good things.

As I was thinking about how I use technology, it reminded me of a recent episode of Castle that J and I watched.  In it, a lottery winner dies.  Over the course of their investigation, Castle is fascinated with asking the other characters what they would do if they won the lottery.  He's already basically won the lottery by being a successful mystery writer and he asserts to another character that winning the lottery or otherwise coming into a large amount of money doesn't change you so much as it amplifies already existing tendencies.  I think technology does much the same thing in our lives.

This bears out in my own family.  I have a tendency towards introspection and this comes through in my use of the computer.  My husband spends his screen time reading about his favorite sports teams, listening to new music and reading about books.  My pitfall?  Spending too much time on blog reading or facebook.  Not because it satisfies a deep place in me, but because it's on my phone and an easy thing to do when I have a few minutes.  J's pitfall?  Choosing catching up with information on his various teams over catching up with his family.  Like their parents, my daughters' pitfalls were using the internet to satisfy their curiosity and connect with others technologically without seeming like a neophyte - both things very typical of their personalities.

I think one thing this means for our family is that J and I should be more intentional about what time we do and don't spend on the computer.  And we should communicate clearly to our daughters about how insidious the use of technology can be.  About how it can allow you to substitute an artificial connection for a real one.  How it can take away time from other, more valuable pursuits like reading or going for a walk or any number of other things.  But I think we should contrast technology's downsides with the good things it brings us - easy access to a wealth of information, ways to use our gifts, an inexpensive source of entertainment.

With daughters who are 11, 9 and 6 we are well and truly into a new phase of parenting.  And this is a little scary for several reasons.  There's the fact that there are dangers we can't keep them from (like websites), our lack of experience in dealing with the new terrain and, perhaps scariest of all, the way our parenting to date begins to bear fruit.  By this I mean that the groundwork we've laid up until this point begins to show where it is strongest and where it is weakest.  We all have different approaches to parenting, so this will look different for every family.  But one thing J and I discussed this weekend was that we have a tendency to trust our children, for good or bad.  I don't think our recent experiences will make us choose to be more distrustful - how will they ever become independent individuals if I'm constantly looking over their shoulders? - but it does give us pause to consider whether we should be more vigilant in some areas.

Maybe you're reading this post thinking that I'm a horrible parent for letting my girls make these mistakes.  You might be right, but I really can't protect them from everything, even if I were a helicopter parent instead of the more free range approach I take.  I really can only help them learn to navigate this world the best I know how.  And the world is a disparate place - a place full of beauty and ugliness.  If I only ever prepare them for the beauty, how will they know what to do when they face its ugliness full on?

In an odd way, I'm thankful for these recent missteps of my daughters because they have given our family an opportunity to not just evaluate how we deal with TV, computer, gaming, texting and phone issues, but a chance to look at why our family uses or doesn't use these things.  Because if we can take a step back and decide why that will make the how easier - easier to decide as a parent and hopefully easier to follow as a child.

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have, especially on the why of technology in your life.  Why do you choose to spend time on one site versus another?  Why do or don't you limit your computer time - or that of your children?  Why are you thankful for technology?  Why do you wish it were less pervasive?


KFM said...

This subject has been weighing on my mind. I've considered giving up technology on certain days in Lent (like fasting) just to see how our lives would be impacted. I can't give it up altogether but I know that we don't need it every day. Seth's class has been studying wants vs needs in Social Studies and we've discussed cable and internet but haven't decided how much to cut out over Lent. When I do turn the tv off or ban the computer, I find that he doesn't read a book (as I secretly hope he would) but instead builds something, plays with toys or other games or picks up his DS or portable DVD player. His teacher requests her students to get on a math website every day to compete with other schools across the state in an online math competition but he can do the allotted time at school, so we don't really need it every day at home. Thanks for bringing up a difficult topic.

Lauren said...

Shannon, Wow! I can honestly say that your experience is one of my nightmares for my kids. This spurs me on to put the child protection filters on now, to at least prevent some missteps for my kids. I know even by the time my kids are as old as yours are now, there will be even more to be wary of. I personally find that I use the internet, facebook, etc when I'm bored, and usually find myself regretting wasting the time. I'd be much happier if I was reading a book.
However, I like the idea of limiting usage and discussing the purposes of the internet - some entertainment (games), reading news, looking up historical facts, picture and video fun, etc - and trying to all live by those uses...including me!
Thank you for sharing this post and helping us all, therefore, stay on our toes in this new and fallen world!

Anonymous said...

My first thought was my rememberance of my self at their age. I read and re-read, 'Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret' at least five times. My family owned a health encyclopedia and I devoured the sections on puberty and young womens' issues. I was ten, trying to digest 'Our Bodies, Ourselves'.

Personally, I see nothing wrong in what your girls are doing. It is difficult, even in the most open parent-child relationships, for children to approach their parents with these types of questions.

As for technology, I would rather use trespasses as lessons in discretional use than attempt to ban it completely. This is the Brave New World. There is no hiding technology from our children, at least not in the long run.

WordGirl said...

Thanks for your comments, guys.

Lauren - It's interesting that you say this post will prompt you to put filters in place more quickly. I actually do not wish we'd had filters in place and will not be adding them. I think using a filter to stop my children's curiosity sends them the wrong message - the message that these are questions they should not be asking. And, honestly, I think they would have sought the information elsewhere. This would be far worse since J and I still wouldn't know that they are wondering about these things. I think that's a decision for each family, but I would rather work towards an understanding of what technology is and isn't for rather than trying to block it out, which sends a different message that may be less clear to my girls.

Christine - your comment makes me want to run to the used bookstore and stock up on books that my girls can use as references for answers to their questions. Your statement about it being tough for children to talk to their parents about this stuff rings true (and makes me feel a bit better since I've been feeling like I must seem untrustworthy and/or unapproachable to my girls since they didn't come to me). Books are, in my opinion, a far better resource for these issues. I want their questions and curiosity answered - but not pornographically.

Karen - I've not tried fasting completely from technology, but we don't allow any TV on schooldays and I've been trying to not get on the computer myself until after A and I finish our first two school subjects in the morning. One thing this post makes me want to do is articulate to my daughters where I see technology sapping my own productivity, creativity and interactions so that they can be self-aware and watch for these same things in themselves. I'm certainly not suggesting hiding technology for my children - it brings far too many good things. But I think I need to proactively train them in this as in many other areas of their lives.

rufusjt said...

I actually think what the girls did was normal, and took advantage of what resources they had available to them. Technology in and of itself is not the issue; I think the issue is what you do with that access to technology, and how you develop your children's use of technology.

If we don't speak to questions on sex and all its attendant issues - body image, framing of sex as beautiful instead of dirty or perverted, media portrayal, etc - the girls will get their information elsewhere. I know I got my information from friends and magazines. I just thought girls would be different. :) Guess not.

So to me, this is a good teaching moment and an opportunity for dialogue with our girls. I do think we should combine this dialogue with more proactive vigilance, to give them a chance to ask questions in a safe environment.


Becky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becky said...

Somehow I deleted my first comment...My experience echoes Christine's. I read that "S" encyclopedia volume! And Judy Blume!! In my brain words are powerful and stay with me, but pictures much more so. Therefore, I'd rather my kids get it in print if they search on their own (which they have). Also I tend to be a bit Luddite-ish (it waxes and wanes) so we've avoided autonomous internet usage and I'm just too stingy to get a smartphone yet. where's that head-in-the-sand emoticon??

stmclaughlin said...

Weighing in with my own opinion, here.

I feel like it is my duty as a parent to protect my kids. The Internet is a MUCH different place than the "S" volume of the encyclopedia. With a couple of accidental clicks of the mouse, anyone can be exposed to images that you will never forget.

As an IT consultant, I've been called into several situations where kids have accidentally clicked on things and some of the raunchiest, most profane things you could ever imagine were displayed in front of them.

Your kids don't have to look for it. It will find them.

Exploring and being curious is one thing. I think that should be encouraged. I think it is my responsibility as a parent to provide a safe place in which to do that.

My kids barely use a computer, but I have it filtered. As they grow older, the raunchy stuff will still be filtered out, but I may add the ability to know when they give out personal information on the internet.

I recommend the free web filtering service with OpenDNS. If you want to be able to give kids a block of hours they can use, limit what times they can be on the internet, etc, SafeEyes is the best filtering software out there in my opinion.

Scott Mc.

The Mom said...

Obviously, you are dealing with a multiplicity of issues and you must rely on the Holy Spirit, your own gut and the collective wisdom that you and J have as individuals and as parents to help you navigate your way through this situation. That said, I do think it is the nature of children who are on a collision course with the quickly approaching teen years to begin to assert the independence of thought and determination to plot their own course that are requisite earmarks of the march to adulthood. So on the one hand, what you are seeing is very normal and is to be expected, and, as an aside, I find parents that err on the side of controlling more than they should for longer than they should usually end up finding that they experience more separation and alienation from their children than they ever dreamed they would. On the other hand, we are parents and our role as such is to protect our children from dangerous, unwise and poor choices until they are equipped to make those decisions for themselves. I always remind myself that parents are continually moving from nurturing and protecting to equipping all the time. This process is a cycle that repeats itself endlessly and is one that must be embraced. When evaluating a situation with one of my own children, The Husband and I tried to ask ourselves...where are we on the continuum and where do we want to be? What is our goal for our child and what is our goal for his/her relationship with us with regard to these issues? This is a way, if you will, of assessing or grading ourselves and assessing or grading them. It sometimes helps to infuse the situation with a bit of humor as well.
My big thing about the internet and the world of Google is that it is an ocean teeming with all types of life. If you want to learn about water (or sex), you don't run to the nearest ocean and jump in. You turn on the tap first, learn about the properties of water, take a bath and then maybe venture down to the pool where you certainly don't start out by jumping in at the deep end. The problem with the internet is where to find the shallow water... from the first click the water is way over your head.
I think both of your girls have been taught to think and to explore (the world of reading has opened up so much of this for them in a very positive way) that a certain amount of "I want to figure this out on my own" is to be expected. They also know, without a doubt, that the topic of sex is tricky. And they are right. So, what to do? And how to do it? Again, you must rely on the Holy Spirit to be your best guide. My great confidence comes from the fact that you and J are parents committed to loving God well as much as you are parents committed to loving your children well. I will join my prayers to yours for wisdom, strength, and for finding joy in the journey!

Variations On A Theme said...

I wish I didn't let the kids watch TV so much. Ben wants to watch more than Olivia, because he can't read yet. They play too many computer games. I've taught Olivia to ask me before she googles anything, which she does...for now. Your post is an eye-opener. I wish i weren't so lazy... And I'm a blog and facebook follower, too. :)