As a parent, technology can feel like a blessing and a curse. There are certainly days when I just want to unplug and stay off the grid. But there are also so many reasons to embrace how new technologies can help us to stay connected to loved ones, organize our busy lives and yes, be a better parent. With Valentines Day looming, and a new focus for Safer Internet Day on creating a better Internet, I decided to list all the reasons I love my technology.
At the risk of making Facebook uncool, this mom loves it! I live far away from cherished friends and family. Facebook allows me to check in on the ones I care about, see photos and videos of events I can’t attend and stay connected to old classmates, colleagues and loved-ones. Sure, there are those who counter that social media has replaced face-to-face interaction. I disagree. Facebook allows me to remain in touch with those I might otherwise not. I can post photos and videos widely to my ‘friends’ or to those in a chosen circle. I know my parents miss their grandchildren, and Facebook allows us another way to connect, share and celebrate. Facebook has not replaced my social life it has helped me to maintain it. I make the time to see the people who are nearby. For those who are not, I check in online. Facebook is not a substitute but rather a complement to my ‘real-world’ social life.
When my then 5th grader asked for help on his math project on the Fibonacci Sequence I panicked. I had no idea what he was talking about. So I Googled it. In less than two minutes, I accessed an instructional video from Khan Academy that refreshed my memory and saved me from looking deficient in front of my child. This was the first, but not the last time that I needed Google to assist me with one of my kid’s assignments and allowed me to save face in front of my three skeptical children. I still have some relevant wisdom to impart; I just may need to do a quick online search first. I could not be more thankful.
Whether you are a stay-at-home parent or work full time, you know the value of keeping the family schedule updated and organized. We use a shared calendar or it might otherwise be impossible to manage. I have three kids in two different schools and we use the calendar to keep track of assignments, classroom volunteer requests, PTA events and meetings, parent visit days, etc. Then there is all the after school activities; football, basketball, soccer, dance, theater, birthday parties, sleepovers, babysitters, carpool schedules, and on and on. I don’t know how parents’ pulled it off before! I particularly like the apps that make adding to your calendar and sharing updates easier, like Evite for parties, OpenTable for dinner reservations and the new sports team apps like TeamSnap.
Nothing will ever take the place of face-to-face interacting with my children, but I have found that communicating the way they do, texting or sending funny photos just opens up more opportunities for connection.
It can be difficult to keep track of your kids’ whereabouts, while at home or work. Early on, when my kids would venture too far from my house for me to see them I’d ask them to bring along a walkie-talkie. This way I could make dinner in relative peace and free of worry. Now that my oldest has a cell phone, we can text each other while I am at work and he is on the go. I like that I can be in contact if necessary or just to say hello. Nothing will ever take the place of face-to-face interacting with my children, but I have found that communicating the way they do, texting or sending funny photos just opens up more opportunities for connection. Of course, we have rules that set limits on screen use around dinnertime, homework, bedtime or other family events.
My professional life is centered online and I am still humbled by how advanced, adept and creative my children are with their use of technology. They blow me away with their abilities to create whole worlds using Minecraft; produce imaginative videos complete with scripts, choreography and storylines; and manage several fantasy sports leagues requiring an encyclopedic knowledge of the latest statistics. I can’t imagine what they will do next, but I am thrilled that they are developing the skills they will need to succeed (and having a blast doing it).
I completely understand why parents can feel overwhelmed and skeptical of their kids’ online use. There is a lot of inappropriate content and negativity online. But there are also endless possibilities for exciting creations, access to an enormous amount of information and the ability to stay in touch with people from across the globe. The Internet doesn’t have to be a scary place; it’s full of potential and promise. Just like our kids.