From cell phone to iPods and more, 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 argue it’s taken away from family life and is ruining people’s ability to communicate and socialize without hand-held 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 Johnston families use technology and how they feel it’s had an affect on their lives, for better or for worse.
Tech is everywhere
For kids growing up today, they haven’t known of a world without iPads, laptops, cell phones or X-boxes. Families have many of these items in their homes, and now schools are employing them as well, relying on the draw of certain kinds of technology to facilitate teaching and get kids interested in learning.
This year, Johnston High School has implemented a one-to-one iPad program. Thirty units are available this year, and students are exposed to teaching applications like Moodle, a free web application that educators can use to create effective online learning sites. Students have also been assigned Google email addresses by the school district in an effort to easily disseminate information.
Dean of students John Holbrook says his first computer class in 1984 was a wee bit different than what Johnston students today are experiencing. In his opinion, the increase in technology even allows for some interesting situations where students get to be the teachers on occasion.
“They’re the digital natives, so to speak,” he says. “This year, teachers will use some specific math apps on the iPads, and they will be linked right into the curriculum. Students will be using apps instead of textbooks, and I think that’s really cool. They’ll be tons more engaged. This is their medium.”
Though he’s dean of students in Johnston, Holbrook is also dad to two daughters ages 14 and 16. This year his 14-year-old has a laptop assigned to her for the school year that she can bring home and do work on. It’s just another instance of how technology has become interwoven with daily experiences — and even school work.
While technological advances have made life easier and have offered information at the touch of a button, they can also lead to potential problems. Holbrook says school personnel and parents both have to be mindful of the sorts of situations that their teens especially can get involved in.
“We bring in a police officer, and they’ve used a program called NetSmartz, and he talks a lot about cyberbullying and what parents can do to keep their kids safe,” he says. “They talk about safe Internet usage and things like that.”
When it comes to social interaction, more and more of it is taking place online, through texting, and with other digital mediums. Some days students sit next to each other after school, texting back and forth on their phones instead of chatting.
“Things like social media continue to concern me, too,” he says. “In schools we deal with Facebook issues and things, and I think a lot of that is because you’re not saying it to the person’s face, and you don’t hear the tone. It makes it difficult to interpret what the person is saying. It’s easier to take things the wrong way.”
Holbrook says he and his wife have allowed their daughters to be involved in social media sites like Facebook, but they monitor their accounts from time to time. Their computers are in a central location, and he says ultimately he trusts them to make the right decisions.
What he does remind his kids of is the fact that the Internet is forever. Anything that’s said is never really private, and it never really goes away. So think before you type.
“If there’s a comment they’ve made, sometimes we ask them if they understand how this could be taken by others, and it makes them think twice about it.”
When it comes to family time, there are certainly critics who believe all this technology has made us unable to communicate face to face. It’s made us lazy and inactive. And it’s made us ignore one another.
“I think everyone struggles with it,” Holbrook says. “I catch myself looking at an email at the dinner table because it’s right there at your fingertips immediately.”
Ultimately, though, the Holbrooks make an effort as a family to have dinner together on the nights they can and to shut off the phones. His daughters are also very involved in different sports and activities which also keep them busy.
“If there are kids that aren’t so involved, there is a lot of idle time that allows for things that might not be as positive to creep in,” he says. “If a kid has a computer in his or her room and is hibernating up there, that’s not ideal. Shut them off occasionally and be a family.”
Suresh and Chandra Reddy — parents to Akaash Suresh, 13, and Arushi Suresh, 8 —understand all too well what it’s like to live in a world of computers. They are both involved in technology in their day-to-day lives in their jobs with computer software. Their son Akaash is a self-proclaimed computer geek. He does computer programming and has taken classes on creating games.
“Technology is something that helps give you more knowledge, and we promote that within our family since knowledge is the biggest thing,” Suresh says. “More and more of the world is turning to technology and more automation, so you better be prepared now to take advantage of that.”
Akaash has taken classes at both Iowa State University and Des Moines Area Community College. Though his parents are both involved in the industry, Suresh says his son’s interest seems to be independent of that.
“He just started using it, and he developed it on his own and he likes it so much,” he says. “It wasn’t anything that we pushed. Right now he has been bugging me to get a video gaming computer, and I’m not ready yet for that.”
Though Akaash has enjoyed learning about computers and programming, Suresh says he hasn’t gotten into things like social media sites. He admits he’s a bit leery about them himself, as any information shared is readily available online.
The Reddy family also encourages their kids to enjoy their hobbies and interests, but they are limited in the amount of time they can spend working on them.
“We have set times for him to work on that,” Suresh says. “He doesn’t work on that all the time. On weekdays during the school year, he doesn’t do as much then. There is a time limit we set so he’s not on the computer all the time. We feel that’s the best way to handle it.”
Like John Holbrook, Pam Wilson is also mom to two teens — sons Blake, 17, and Ben, 14. Wilson says they’re typical teenagers when it comes to technology, but she feels they have done a good job using things in moderation in their family.
“Around seventh grade when they started sports, we thought it was necessary for them to have a phone,” she says. “Neither have a smart phone, so they don’t have access to the Internet. We have a computer in the home, and it’s more in a family-centered area and it seems unfortunately that they’re quicker on it than we are, so we have some trust there going on. You have to trust they’re doing the right thing and making the right decisions too.”
Wilson says Blake has a Facebook account, as does she, so she checks up on him every once in a while. They’ve also talked quite a bit about what it means to post things online — if you don’t want people to know it, don’t put it out there. She says she’s always been a bit guarded about social media sites, but she thinks the current trend for teens is that it isn’t quite the cool thing to do anymore. Her boys are as interested in being online and updating things as kids were when it first became popular.
When it comes to advice for other parents, Wilson says it’s up to each individual family and their comfort level when it comes to technology. You know your child best.
“Really, it’s a case-by-case situation on what your kid needs and your comfort level,” she says. “I think the Internet is here to stay, so we need to learn how to use and navigate it. You have to use it for Moodle at school; one time we had our computer go down and we ran to the library really quick to finish up a paper and get it sent it because the library was closing. You don’t realize how much you really rely on the Internet.”
Wilson also limits the amount of time her kids spend playing video games and things like that. Because of the limits, she think it’s helped them stay focused on other activities and not get addicted.
Because she has boys, Wilson laughs when she says their talk time on their cell phones is less than hers, and they aren’t as interested in high volume texting either.w For their family, technology is a helpful tool, but it certainly isn’t the be all and end all.
“Face to face is really the best, so that’s the way you need to learn how to communicate with people,” she says. “I think my kids prefer that. They like being outside and being active and hanging out with their friends, so I can’t say it’s hurt them. I can’t say they’ve just wanted to sit in their rooms and cling to video games or their cell phone. All things in moderation.”