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?