Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Tech Generation

“I am not as young as I look, in fact I am a lot closer to 40 then I care to admit,” I recently said, while realizing I was beginning to sound like my mother. This was in the midst of a discussion with my mom’s group about how technological advances are impacting the lives of our children.  Over the course of this discussion I realized there is a wide range of views on this subject.

The average American child receives their first cell phone at 11.6 years old.  Of 12 to 17 year olds, 75% now own a cell phone.  I find this shocking.  I have always said my kids will not have cell phones until they have a driver’s license and are holding down a job.  Owning a cell phone is not just an expensive proposition, but a responsibility. With so many kids now having cell phones, I wonder if I will be holding my kids back by denying them this technology. 

Discussions in regard to technology and our children leave me with a lot of questions and concerns that go beyond cell phone ownership.  My worries range from the practical to the philosophical.  I am not sure I can keep up with all the changes and expense. I am not even sure it is worth it to try.  I am concerned about the loss of life skills due to the influence of technology.  Making friends, writing and grammar, problem solving, and cognitive thought are all life skills I feel are vital for children to learn.

One important life skill that seems to be on the decline is the art of making friends.  I hope my kids understand the difference between a true friend and an acquaintance.  Having 300+ “friends” on Facebook does not mean you have 300 real friends. A true friend is one who gives you a hug when you need it, can pick you up when you are down, lends you a glove at a bus stop when you are both freezing.  They are not just a person you shared a laugh with in passing and may never see again. 

I fear that children are failing to develop good interpersonal communication skills together with proficient writing and grammar.  It seems that texting shorthand may become the norm for the written word.  I may be old fashioned on this one, but I don’t feel texting shorthand should be used in school work or professional communication.   Writing is an art and every child should have the opportunity to practice it.  Maybe this is a generational thing (I fear what I don’t understand).   

Children are increasingly dependent on technology for entertainment and finding their way.  We rely on navigation systems to get to places in our own community.  I feel it is important to teach our children to read a map and learn how to get around their community.  The idea that we need a battery powered object to find our way home frightens me.  I have had conversations with several friends/acquaintances where they have told me they got lost because their GPS gave them incorrect directions, or the battery died.  If only they had a good old map, or even better, knew how to get around their neighborhood. The same goes for the constant need to be “plugged-in” and entertained with gadgets like personal DVD Players, gaming systems, and smart phones.   Kids can spend an hour without digital entertainment.  I heard a rumor that children are not going to be required to learn basic math in school any more since they now have calculators at their fingertips.  A similar discussion was presented about cursive and penmanship no longer necessary because of digital media.  These are skills I am not ready to throw out the window.

I plan to stand my ground and not let technology interfere with my family life.  No cell phone.  I’ll put that money in the college fund and my kids will have few more years of a carefree life where they don’t need to lug a bunch of stuff around everywhere they go.  I hope not being constantly “plugged-in” does not hold my children back.  I may change my tune in a few years, but I promise we will not be the family in the campsite next to yours playing video games and watching movies all night. Your kids will have a phone just in case mine need to call home, right? 

Monday, January 30, 2012

A different kind of Christmas story

OK I wrote  this two months ago, but had to wait on posting it (I had submitted it for a contest).
I know it is not so timely, but I think it is still a great thought provoker. 


A few weeks ago my son said to me “You know what Mommy; I have decided Santa Claus is a real person and elves are real also.”  This brief statement by my five year old made my heart skip a beat.  I was speechless.  Though this proclamation was a shock to me, it did put one of my great parenting fears to rest.  The fear that my son would be the one to out Santa to his peers.  As a result our family would forever be labeled “the ones who ruined Christmas.”

I am a Jewish mother raising a family in a not so Jewish part of the world.  I have explained (to my son) our religious beliefs and those of others to the best of my ability.  I have made a point to expose my son to a variety of beliefs and customs.   I have emphasized the importance of respect for others and their beliefs.  I have also stressed the importance of values such as honesty. I expect my son to be honest with me and in return I plan to be honest with him.  When he asks a question I give him an honest answer (at his comprehension level) regardless of the topic.

A few weeks before my son made his proclamation, we had a conversation about factual and make-believe stories.   This conversation was in support of the real verses imaginary dialogue happening at school.  Santa Claus was one of the examples that came up.  We agreed that this was a topic for his friends to talk about with their own parents. That even though we do not believe in Santa or celebrate Christmas, it is something many of his friends do and he is not to tell them they are wrong.  We decided his friends should be allowed to believe in Santa Claus as long as their parents feel it is appropriate.

I thought I was being proactive, but I now have a parenting dilemma I do not know how to deal with.  No, it is not how to avoid disappointment when no gifts appear on the 25th.  My son tells me he understands we are Jewish and do not celebrate Christmas, but I know he secretly hopes some extra gifts from an anonymous source will appear.  The dilemma is much greater; it is a question of fostering trust.  My son’s new found belief in the jolly fellow is a result of a class project and discussion.  My son trusts his teachers, who inadvertently, while trying to play along with the family rituals and traditions observed by the majority of his class convinced my son that Santa and his elves really do exist.  I have spoken with my son’s teacher about this and I know she was not intentionally trying to convince the Jewish kid there is a Santa Clause, but kids are impressionable.  In the mind of a five year old, if your teachers tell you they believe in something then it must be true.  

I think it is important that he has a trusting rapport with his teachers. As a parent I am now faced with a difficult decision.  Do I try to set my son straight? If I try to convince him there is no such thing as Santa I may degrade his respect and trust for his teachers.  As I stated earlier, I think it is important that my son trust and respect his teachers.  I have decided not to argue the point about the existence of Santa Claus with my son.  He will have to come to this conclusion in his own time. Instead I plan to prepare my son for the big letdown. I will try to be sensitive to the trust issues that may have developed.  Jolly Old St Nick will not visit our house this holiday season.  I hope my son will understand that our family traditions are just as wonderful as those of his friends.  I also hope that he will continue to look-up-to and trust his teachers.  Maybe this will even be an opportunity for him to learn that he can question authority and he does not need to believe everything he hears.