Should Parents Fear or Embrace Technology?

I grew up in the 1980s, and this ain't it. I remember thinking on 8-hour car journeys during which my sister and I sang every word of the "Disney Gold Collection" (sorry mom and dad) that boy, the trip would seem much faster and easier if we just had a TV that could fit in our hands.
01/25/2016 03:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017
Cropped closeup of a woman's hand above a digital tablet
Cropped closeup of a woman's hand above a digital tablet

It's not the 1980s.

I grew up in the 1980s, and this ain't it. I remember thinking on 8-hour car journeys during which my sister and I sang every word of the "Disney Gold Collection" (sorry mom and dad) that boy, the trip would seem much faster and easier if we just had a TV that could fit in our hands. But then, how would it get a signal, I wondered? There would have to be some kind of network that broadcast even in a car. Did I think up the iPhone as an 8-year-old? Perhaps. But I had it easy -- there wasn't much clutter in technology. The VHS was still a marvel. (My parents are probably the only ones on the planet who still have one).

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My son was born into a world with handheld devices, phones that are considered "smart," and on the brink of self-driving cars. There is a lot for him to get his developing brain around. So isn't it our job as parents to help our kids be comfortable in such a fast-paced and ever-changing technological world? Because I don't think we live in a remotely predictable world anymore where we, as parents, can be so sure we know what should be taught and what should be avoided. It's just not that simple.

This all dawned on me as my son moved into a new milestone in his life, starting kindergarten. I've recently met all types of parents, and started to notice that there is definitely a school of thought that favors shielding children from technology.

It doesn't have to be all consuming...

Now, let me level-set for a second. My child, an exuberant engineering-minded 6-year-old is enrolled at a progressive school with a very heavy focus on the tactile, and important skills like reading and writing. In fact, it rarely integrates much technology into the learning experience. And I am glad. Yet I fully believe in him learning technology from a young age. This may sound like a contradiction, but here's why it is not.

Ask my son about his view on technology and this is the response: "I like technology but I also like to go outside and run."

His school experience offers him a chance to experience the more physical world -- something there is simply no substitution for. So, I certainly don't think kids should be completely inundated with tech and never see the light of day; but I believe it is our duty as parents to teach them the role of it in their lives (as best we can, for that role is ever changing).

It used to be so simple, but not anymore...

In the 1980s it was easy -- anyone can figure out that hours in front of a television set probably isn't the best way to exercise our brains. In my household today, I don't even have cable TV. I have an Apple TV for an on-demand experience. My son's favorite program is not produced by Disney or even PBS. It's by a "Minecraft" player named "StampyLongNose" and it's on YouTube. For those readers who don't know Minecraft I will spare you the deep details, but suffice it to say it's an interactive world in which our children can create just about anything they can dream of with 64 x 64 pixel "blocks." StampyLongnose is my son's hero. He broadcasts himself playing the game, puts a bit of a story around it, and keeps it rated "G." He has a devoted following of children and parents alike. My son doesn't just watch the episodes, he lives them; after any episode is finished you can bet he's on his computer trying to emulate what the host just did. It's interactive TV watching.

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But, there are so many parents in 2016 quite happy (if not insistent) to look at the world through a 1980s lens. I know plenty of parents who would frown at the fact that my 6-year-old has his own computer, but then would let their own kids watch 'regular' TV (and commercials). I also know parents who limit "screen time" during the week, only to have their kids completely overdose the minute saturday morning hits. And I know yet other parents who simply don't allow any screens in their house, period, so worried about how any electronics can impact their children's mental development that they may as well live in the 1800s.

So, should we fear it or embrace it?

It all leaves me thinking -- shouldn't parents just be comfortable enough to have interactive technology a part of their kid's life? Cause honestly, what is the alternative? If I want my son to succeed when he graduates college, surely having a command of technology is going to be important, if not necessary.

So, as a parent I accept where we are in 2016. Technology is everywhere, it's unpredictable, and it's not slowing down. It has all the qualities that make us parents uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean we should fear it. We should embrace it, maintain a balance, and in doing so give our children the experience and the knowledge they need to succeed in the real world, whatever that will look like when they grow up!