It’s hard not to get caught up in the dizzying world of technology. There are the ubiquitous iPads, iPods and iPhones, with their litany of apps. There are e-readers, gaming systems and scads of online tools and software.
Some families in Perry are more than familiar with the high-tech gadgetry, using technology on a daily basis to help streamline their lives.
But there’s the flipside, too. Overuse is a major concern and something parents say they have to constantly be vigilant about, for themselves and their kids. Adults also worry about website content and social media.
Parents say one big perk of technology and their kids is that it’s a great disciplinary tool. After all, what could be worse for a teenager than taking away a cell phone?
The Iben family
Step into the home of the Iben family, and there are times you may see most of them on the living room couch, each with an electronic device in hand, says Sean Iben.
Technology plays a big role in their lives, whether it’s work, school or leisure. Sean Iben goes through the list of electronics they use, including his smartphone, laptops, a desktop (used for Wi-Fi at home), an iPad, an iPod Touch, a Nook and various gaming systems.
Technology touches numerous aspects of Sean life, from working on a computer at his job at Hy-Vee in Perry to his role as a Little League coach, where his phone gives him quick contact with all of his players’ parents.
Sometimes, the screen time can be too much for all of them, say Sean and his wife, Stacie. They try to limit the amount of time they and their three children spend on electronics and will need to be extra vigilant as cooler weather sets in and more time is spent indoors.
“I think sometimes the kids get too dialed in, and probably even myself, on something on a computer, and it kind of takes away from that family time,” Sean says.
Stacie adds that monitoring the kids’ time spent on electronics is important because they can easily go from one device to the next.
“I think they can definitely get hooked into it and not realize how much time they’ve spent on it,” she says.
Madison, 14, admits there are times when she’s been looking at a screen for too long and makes it a point a take a break.
“Sometimes, if I’m on things for a long time, I will put them down and do something with my friends and do something active to get away from the Internet and games,” Madison says. “I think it can fry kids’ brains really easily.”
When the use of electronics is kept in check, Stacie says, technology is a wonderful thing. She does their banking and books airline and hotel reservations online. She also checks the school lunch schedule online every morning to see whether the kids want to bring their lunch or not.
The kids get on the Internet to look things up for their homework, and Stacie and Sean keep track of their grades electronically.
“It lists each assignment, the grade on it, the total points possible and the points they got on that specific assignment, which is really nice,” she says.
Another perk: Technology has been an effective disciplining tool, says the couple, who have taken away the privileges of using electronics.
Still, Stacie does worry about the things her children may inadvertently come across on the Internet. But she also points out the importance of staying current with technological trends.
It’s all a matter of balance when it comes to technology. While their family likes to use a lot of electronics, they participate in many non-technology related activities, Madison says, including going to I-Cubs games and vacationing in Kansas City.
Brady, 10, and Carter, 8, say they enjoy playing on their gaming systems and being outside. When they’re not playing video games or Webkinz (an online, interactive game where kids play with a virtual version of a plush pet), they like to do things like play baseball or jump on their trampoline.
The VanKirk family
Ask each member of the VanKirk family what technological tools they regularly use, and you’ll get a variety of answers.
But each piece of technology does the same things: Makes life easier, more convenient and in some cases, more entertaining.
Darek likes to use the iPad to regularly keep track of his sons’ grades online and for his work on the Perry Community School District’s school board. His wife, Carol, likes to use the iPad, too, to store volleyball statistics and take video of the Perry High School girls volleyball team, which she coaches.
Carol also likes to go online to comparison shop and plan their family vacations. She’s a big fan of her Roomba, a disc-shaped robotic device that cleans hard surfaces and carpets.
For Jackson, 18, his smartphone is his technological workhorse, while Kade, 14, likes to play video games.
All of them text a lot to keep in touch, Darek says.
Jackson rattles off all the things he does with his phone, including texting his friends, downloading music, getting on Facebook and Twitter, and checking out virtual tours of colleges he’s interested in. He also uses an assortment of applications to check the weather and keep up with fantasy football.
Kade plays games on their Xbox 360 and Kinect gaming system and watches shows on Netflix through the Xbox. He also plays different computer games.
There are times, especially with gaming, when Derek and Carol ask their boys to shut things off and do something different, Carol says. Their sons are also very active and participate in a variety of sports.
Darek and Carol say they have taken away their sons’ technological privileges as a form of discipline. While they don’t have to do it often, they say it’s been very effective when they have.
But with all of the advantages technology provides, it presents some disadvantages, too.
“My pet peeve,” Darek says, “is when I’m trying to talk to them (his sons) and they’re texting. I’ve said, ‘Phones down!’ ”
Social media is also a concern of both parents.
“I worry a little about the social media at times, about what kids say on there,” Carol says, whether it’s on Facebook or through texts.
There seems to be a brazenness to kids when they hide behind a screen, Darek says. But they may not realize exactly what the real impact of their words is.
One thing Carol laments are the talks they used to have as a family while riding in the car. The distraction of technology has changed those conversations.
“Now, I’ll say something and no one responds,” she laughs, “and it’s because they have their headphones in.”
The Krohn family
Christine and Nathan Krohn are parents and teachers who know their way around technology. They have iPhones, Nooks and iPads, not to mention the software and devices they have to use at work.
And, it looks as if their 2-year-old son, George, is on his way to being just as well-versed on the high-tech gadgets. On a Friday evening, he nimbly played a game on an iPad, using his finger to trace a path along a maze.
“With the iPad, he knows how to turn it on, what folder to go to to get his games and how to pick which ones he wants to play,” Christine says. “ We think he can use it better than we can.”
Devices such as the iPad and iPhone are multipurpose tools, weaving their way into so many facets of their lives, the Krohns say. Whether it’s a potty training app for George, the ability to compare gas prices while on a road trip or using Skype to communicate with Christine’s family in Maryland, technology has made their lives more convenient and richer.
But you have to strike just the right balance, they say. For George, educational programs on the iPad are a supplement to the reading, singing and counting they do as a family, Christine says. He also helps take care of the pets, picks up his toys and plays with puzzles and blocks, all of which teach him skills that can’t be taught from an iPad.
Nathan says he and Christine love the outdoors and make time to play outside with George.
“There’s nothing that can take the place of parents’ involvement,” Christine says.
As George gets older, his parents are already worried about the changing impact of technology on his life. That includes more closely monitoring what he sees on the iPad and computer. They’ve even begun to think about when to buy him a cell phone, Christine says.
Her biggest hang-up with technology is being too dependent on it, says Christine, who notices it at home and at work. For example, when computers aren’t working at school, plans have to change. Or when wireless service is unavailable at home, you can’t pay the bills online.
“If your wireless is down, it drives you nuts,” Nathan says.
As teachers — Nathan teaches fifth grade at Perry Elementary School and Christine teaches middle school language arts at St. Patrick’s Catholic School — they are not only tasked with the hard job of keeping up to date with technology, they also see technology’s affect on kids.
For example, Nathan was seeing kids in his fourth grade class last year with phones and was surprised that children that age would need them. In Christine’s classes, she’s finding that students are transferring their text-speak to the papers they write. Sometimes they aren’t capitalizing words or are substituting numerals for words.
“For sixth, seventh and eighth graders, I wouldn’t think I need to teach as much punctuation as I do,” she says.