From cell phone to iPods, technology isn’t just here to stay — it’s an integral part of most people’s everyday lives.
While some argue that technology has afforded us an improved lifestyle, others say it’s taken away from family life and is ruining people’s ability to communicate and socialize without handheld gadgets. For kids growing up in the information age, speedy technological updates are all they’ve ever known — something older generations might struggle with. Read on to see how Grimes families use technology and how they feel it’s had an affect on their lives, for better or for worse.
This year Dallas Center-Grimes students will get an up-close-and-personal experience with technology, as each eighth-grade student at the middle school will be assigned a laptop to use throughout the year. Principal Lori Phillips says she hears the same two questions from parents regarding the new program: How is my student going to take care of a laptop when she loses her cell phone almost daily? How can I keep my student safe online?
Anita Schroeder is mom to three kids. Callie is in eighth grade, Colin is a senior, and Mikayla is a sophomore in college. She says while she knows that safety is an important issue, they’ve taken steps to keep their kids safe online. They never open an email unless they know who it’s from. They only are able to friend people on Facebook who they have relationships with already.
“There is too much out there, and no one needs to know everything about you unless you already know them,” Scroeder says. “I realized not too long ago that they had their profiles public, and I had them all change them to private.”
If there’s a news story pertaining to online safety, Schroeder uses it as a teaching moment to show her kids that the threat is real. But, overall, she hasn’t been too worried because they know their limits and stick to them.
Sue Bravard also is mom to three — eighth-grader Jared, junior Emma, and college sophomore Celia — and she says she ultimately trusts her kids to be making the right decisions.
When they first got their computer at home, they kept it in a public, high-traffic location in the house. Now she says the girls have their own email and other accounts, and she only checks on things periodically because they’ve already set the expectation that things will be used appropriately.
“We haven’t had to really limit things because our kids know they have to use them appropriately,” Bravard says. “When they were little, we didn’t really limit TV either, because then it didn’t become something big or important. It wasn’t how we did life. It was there, but it wasn’t the biggest thing in their lives.”
Marsha Bender says her kids got a first-hand lesson in Internet safety when someone they knew was involved in a police sting. Her kids — eighth-grader Allie and junior Madeline — learned that Internet dangers were real.
“It was a good teaching moment for our children,” she says. “When you’re on a computer, you’re not always talking to who you think it is. We work hard at not trying to be too restrictive.
“They have Facebook accounts, and they don’t friend anyone other than their real friends or family. It has to be people you know.”
Too much tech?
Though we’ve heard the stories of teenage girls, particularly, sending thousands of text messages or sitting and texting a friend who is sitting right next to them, the families we talked to said it hasn’t been like that for them. While their families have embraced technology, from Kindles to laptops and iPads and more, they aren’t on them constantly either.
“They see it as a tool, and we do, too, but it’s not like the only thing that exists,” Bravard says. “My daughters are big Pinterest people, but they’re not on there an enormous amount of time. Jared has an itouch and plays games, but they’ve done a good job with being able to understand it’s a tool. It’s not how we do life.”
Bravard said their oldest received a cell phone in later middle school, and Jared ended up getting one a bit before that since their contract was coming due. They find it convenient to be able to easily stay in touch, but the kids don’t live on their phones either.
Schroeder says they’ve had to place some limits on her son’s video game playing when he first started, but now they’re less concerned about it so long as he’s still getting his work done. In some ways, Schroeder says it’s a bit of a plus having him home playing games where she knows where he is and what he’s doing.
“My son thinks the X-box gives him good hand-eye coordination and helps him in sports,” laughs Schroeder.
All the families also agreed that it was important to set aside some non-tech time, or at least some time when the family could hang out together. It can be a challenge even for the parents — with a smart phone, it’s tempting to take a quick second to see who the latest email is from.
“I’m bad about it, too,” admits Schroeder. “I will keep up on my emails on my phone because then I don’t have to sit behind the computer for a long period of time, and it drives my husband nuts. In fact the other night we were going out to dinner, and I forgot my phone, and he said, ‘Oh, so I might get your full attention tonight.’ ”
Bravard says their family has always had a “no phones at the dinner table” rule. This applies to their land line and also now to everyone’s cell phones.
“We make an attempt to eat dinner together every night, so we use our phones as a way to keep in touch during the day but not as a substitute for face-to-face interaction,” she says. “It helps with logistics, but we don’t center out life around those things. It’s just the way we’ve always done it, so the kids just integrate the new tech in with that.”
For the Schroeders, sometimes technology can be used as a bonding tool as well. Each member of the family is a big TV buff, and they have certain shows that they all sit down and watch together. It’s really hard for them all to be together at the same time for dinner with different sports and activities schedules, but they do try to set aside some time later in the evening to hang out.
Boender says her girls are also busy — one with music and other activities and the other with sports — and those things keep them active and off their devices.
Walking the line
When it comes to technology, most everyone agreed that it’s mostly good and that it’s definitely here to stay. So setting limits and figuring out what works for your family is the best way to approach things. Only you can determine what you’re comfortable with, what your kids are ready for, and what you’ll ultimately allow.
For Boender, the biggest thing is just being involved. Know what your kids are doing. Make sure no one is camped out in his or her room for hours and hours at a time. Keep electronics in a public area, and for handheld devices, check them out every once in a while.
“I tell all parents they don’t have privacy anymore,” says Phillips. “You have to know their passwords and be checking.”
Bravard says ultimately you have to trust your kids — and figure out what you will do if they do abuse their privileges.
“I don’t even go online and check on them often because I expect them to tell me things,” she says. “We don’t sneak up on them. We set expectations up front. If they’d go against that, there would be a consequence and they know that. If you take the hard way, then we will take away a privilege that is very important to you. Luckily we haven’t had an issue.”