I grew up with technology. The day I received Mattel's Intellivision game system for Hanukkah has been emblazoned on my mind ever since the moment my parents handed me the oversize box with the blue and gold wrapping paper. I was thirteen years old. I am now 45. On that day, the shade of white I turned followed by the ‘over the top’ reaction, was something I had only experienced that one time in my childhood when receiving a material object, probably in my life for that matter. Maybe a set of ski boots once. I realized long ago that material things, regardless of monetary value, can’t bring the ultimate happiness in life. However, I used to love video games. At the time, I had been voraciously reading electronics and video game magazines every free moment I had. Gamers new that the technology and the game experience from Atari's 2600, which was the big boy on the block then, was just given a shot of steroids when Mattel introduced their system. Due to my early infatuation with electronics and technology when I was a young man, you would think that I would be following the herd like the rest of our society and its fixation on electronics. However, I have three children who cannot get enough of the “surprise eggs” videos on YouTube. These videos are of adults and children, mostly adults, unwrapping surprise eggs, blind bags, and blind boxes, all with toys, candy, or stickers of some sort in them. My kids have developed and addiction to these videos. In the videos, you mostly see a pair of hands and hear a bizarre play voice by an adult behind the camera. Apparently there are hundreds of thousands of people who like these videos around the world, because they have anywhere between 3 million and 4 million views. Granted a 1000 of those views were generated right here in Needham, MA at my house.
This is where the conflict of interest creeps in. While on one hand, I do enjoy the incredible convenience and power of having the Internet at your fingertips on a touch screen device that you can pretty much run your life on. On the other hand, I have three children that have grown up with technology as an extension of their own appendages, and enjoy the novelty equally, if not more than their Daddy. On the third hand, as an educator I understand the absolute usefulness, and major benefits technology has had on education, and what a great tool it can be to work with children. There lies the quandary. The exposure to screens and the difficulty to limit screen time starts early in most children's and parents’ lives these days, respectively. Especially if through sibling interaction your children get exposed to surprise egg videos, and you have no choice but to acquiesce to their cries for this mind numbing interaction with the iPad. The only way to limit the use of our five screens amongst our kids, including my phone and my wife's, is to hide said screens during the week. For some reason, it took me and my wife the better part of two years before we truly started to implement a weekday moratorium on iPods and iPads. We have had the weekend only policy in effect for about a year now. It’s nice. We limited their exposure to it all. Yeehah! It's a good system that gets tested every weekday by youngest daughter. My five year old son would test it often in the beginning, but got used to not having it by playing with his sisters more and using his imagination. You would have thought that this would have solved the problem we were most concerned with. We were lambasted with a new problem, one that was unforeseen earlier when we came up with the brilliant plan to limit our kids' screen time. Now that their screen time availability had shrunken by more than seventy-five percent, on the weekends they wanted to be satiated by the rapture of the screen. Immediately there were skirmishes that first weekend as to whom would use which phone or tablet. The easy fix is to just by another tablet, thus increasing the screen square footage in the house. However, I don't necessarily want to go out and drop a few hundred dollars on another device just to appease and preoccupy my children even more, because that's exactly against what I am trying to accomplish.
I can honestly say that sometimes the newfound struggle that comes with raising children in a technology driven world can be a blessing and a curse. The reality most likely is that the valiant goal of being a responsible parent and successfully limiting your children's time on screens is futile. The introduction into schools has made the battle at home that much more challenging. Don't get me wrong, I am not a minimalist tree-hugger that perceives that the society wide fixation on personal technological devices is the work of the devil, or worse, a government conspiratorial ploy to watch our every move or listen to our every word. I don't play video games anymore, but I am enamored and amazed as equally as everyone else around me at the speed in which it seems that all of this technology actually crept up on us. I also believe that education is benefiting and will continue to benefit from the advancements in individualized instruction from laptop carts in classrooms to students' own iPads. As a parent I often wonder if we know what we are getting ourselves into. Are we able to understand what the impact is going to be on our student population across the country in just ten shorts years from now? It seems that there is already been a major impact on the social skills of many of our youth today. Does it mean that it is just going to continue because it is a new obstacle to deal with in the adventure of raising children and teaching students? Some would argue yes. Some would argue no. The jury is still out. What do you think?