When was the last time you visited a travel agency, called the theater for movie times or wrote a letter?
Modern technology is pushing out the old and replacing it with Skype, texts, Flixster, Smartphones, tablets, YouTube, Instagram, Google, Twitter and Facebook. Like it or not, technology is the wave of the future, and many parents are scrambling to keep their children safe and teach them how to act responsibly in today’s digital world.
What works for one family when it comes to technology use can differ greatly from the next. With a wide selection of electronic gadgets at our fingertips, what are the challenges? The risks? The perks? Where do parents turn for help? To answer these questions, we talked with two Bondurant families and the head librarian at the Bondurant Community Library.
A tech savvy world
Bondurant residents Jim and Jenny Campbell agree that electronic devices can make communicating with sons Jacob, 23, and Jack, 18, convenient. Jenny says texting with the kids helps her stay in touch 24/7, but it has drawbacks, too. Texting while driving tops the list.
“I see so many people do it. I don’t. I tell my kids to call me back or text me when they’re out of the car,” Jenny states. “I also think people have lost some of the personal connection. Sometimes when I talk to Jack, he’s getting texts and sending texts. It’s irritating. Jacob plays games sometimes if I’m talking to him,” Jenny laughs, “I’m guilty, too. I love my iPad, a lot. At night we’ll be watching TV, and I’ll be on my iPad the whole time.”
Real-time chats, social networking and instant messaging allow children to build friendships, but the anonymity of the Internet can put children at risk. Jenny wishes some school-aged children had more self-control when posting information online.
“That information, those pictures, and those comments are out there forever,” Jenny says. “Who knows who sees them? Future employers, friends, spouses, family? You can’t take any of that back.”
According to Jim, today’s technology overload makes kids less aware of their environment and increases the temptation to cheat on homework. Sitting motionless in front of a computer for hours doesn’t promote kids’ physical development.
“They’re so into their phones and their games today and not as active as kids used to be,” Jim says. “I think it’s really easy for kids to plagiarize and ‘copy and paste’ from the Internet when it comes to homework.”
They placed parental controls on the computer when her sons were young. When the boys joined Facebook in their late teens, they first needed to “friend” Jenny to keep her in their loop. If she saw a post she didn’t like, she addressed it.
“I won’t mention which son ‘un-friended’ me later on, but let’s just say we’re ‘friends’ again,” Jenny adds.
Asked if he knew anyone who has been cyberbullied, Jack, a high school student, replies, “I have known plenty of people who have been cyberbullied or have been the ones who have bullied. Honestly, it has never happened to me, personally, but I can understand the negative effects it has on some of my fellow students.”
Jack prefers Xbox 360, his computer, phone and Facebook, on occasion, to communicate with his friends and family. He feels people are too quick to post every little detail of their lives on Facebook and Twitter, and wonders who really cares what someone else is eating for dinner or if their clothes are cute. Jack isn’t alone in his opinions. As more and more parents join Facebook, millions of teens are leaving.
“Keep in mind, I am about 90 percent against any and all social networking websites because I find the idea of it extremely ignorant and overused,” Jack says.
When it comes to Skype, a way to make free phone calls to anyone in the world by using a microphone, an Internet connection and, in some cases, a webcam, the Campbells are on the same page. When Jim was deployed to Iraq for 15 months, Skype allowed the family to stay in touch.
“It was awesome,” Jenny states. “The boys and I would sit around the computer to talk to him.”
AJ Foster, Sheena Cochran-Foster and their two young sons, Reid and Brayton, also live in Bondurant. The parents’ biggest challenge regarding the family and technology is determining how much time the boys should spend with the television, Internet, iPad and iPod.
“I sell real estate, and sometimes my boys need to go with me to appointments,” Sheena says. “I’ll give them the iPhone or the Kindle, and they play with it quietly. And then, gosh, they’ve been on it for two hours. How do you find that balance between convenience and setting time limits?”
If kids made the rules, some might stay glued to their tablet, phone or computer screen all day. They may not be the only ones needing to limit screen time. Electronics lovers come in all ages, and marriages and relationships can suffer as a result.
“With my job, I feel like I’m working all the time. It will be 11 p.m., and I’m still texting,” Sheena states. “For others, it might be Pinterest or Facebook where they spend their time. It can take away from the personal interaction people have with each other.”
Reid, 7, likes to play MineCraft, a kid’s computer game where you build with blocks and go on adventures. He surfs YouTube videos to learn about the game and plays it online.
“Whenever you get on the Internet, there can be risks,” Sheena says. “What’s true? What’s not? I’m getting to the point where I might need to add parental controls. It’s a little scary not knowing who’s playing online with Reid. MineCraft is a game for children, but I don’t know the ages of the people he’s playing with. Are they 7 or 30?”
Today, most preschoolers learn to play video games before learning to tie their shoes or print their names. Like many kids his age, Brayton, 3, is a gamer, well versed on how to operate the family’s Kindle and iPhone.
“He knows how to get on Netflix,” Sheena says. “He knows how to play games. It’s just crazy what 3-year-olds can do. I don’t mean just the basics, either.”
It’s hard enough for parents to know how to handle technology in their own lives, yet alone in their children’s. Kids have access to resources way beyond what their parents had when they were young. Technology is the future, and parents need to prepare their children for a life of connectivity.
A little help
To acquire more information on today’s technology, you might start at the Bondurant Community Library. You can pull up a chair at one of the nine computers, receive one-on-one computer training or go the old-fashioned route and check out a book. The library recently received a sizeable increase in bandwidth, so you won’t be disappointed in the Internet speed. If you haven’t already done so, you can join the 291 people who “like” the library on Facebook.
According to Jill Sanders, head librarian, many families visit the library, where technology is available for people of all ages. Children as young as 1 year old enjoy playing games on the Awe Learning Systems. The mice and keyboards are large and easy for little hands to manipulate. The systems are loaded with more than 100 games and no Internet access. Attendance numbers have spiked at the bi-weekly story time, when short videos on an iPad enhance the children’s experience. The older kids flock to the Xbox games, which are projected on the library’s big screen when Bondurant has “early out” school days. The library has four mini and two regular iPads available for patron use.
“Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the technology. People are now so connected to the world,” Sanders states. “Today’s technology makes everything so instantaneous. I used Skype to visit with my niece when she was on military deployment in Afghanistan.”
If you’re feeling two steps behind your tech-savvy children, make a plan to understand the basics, pay attention, ask questions, keep technology out in the open and decide what works best for your family. And if there comes a day when you’re sitting at the dinner table sending text messages to your spouse and kids instead of talking face to face, you might need a Plan B, too.