Sunday, January 9, 2011

Electronic Observations

We used a Groupon last night to head to Hula Hut, one of our favorite Austin restaurants. Landon loves eating out and I love that we can always count on him to behave whenever we do. Clairebear doesn't seem to have an opinion one way or the other, but she does enjoy the extra people who might smile at her so she can smile back. Also, Hula Hut has lights strung around the ceiling, so she spent a lot of time trying to figure those out.

As we were waiting for our meals I looked around the restaurant. It was early and there were lots of families with kids of various ages. I started noticing that almost every kid had some kind of electronic device. iPhone, iPod touch, Nintendo DS, whatever- I don't know them all, but nearly every table had at least one kid playing something. And it made me a little sad. I'm sure it makes meals out easier, and everyone was certainly quiet, so it's not that I felt judgey towards other parents or their kids, it was just kind of sad that at the 3 tables nearest to us, none of the kids (ages 7-10ish) were talking to their parents and no one was talking to them. It reminded me of the last time we ate out when JP and I noticed a booth next to us where every member of the family: mom, dad, son, daughter (both in their early teens), were on their iPhones from the time they ordered their food until it came to the table. No one spoke to each other. Again, maybe they spent all day in deep discourse with each other about all sorts of things, but the visual still made me a little sad. I hope we never do that. I know I'm more connected to my blackberry than I should be, but I do keep it away from the table at dinner and try not to check it much between dinner and bedtime in the evening. I can do better though. So can JP. I smacked his hand during church today when he pulled out his phone to respond to a text during the sermon. I think we can all go an hour without being reachable.

I worry about drawing electronic boundaries as our kids get older. When JP and I were in middle school and high school all calls came through the house. There was always the risk that a parent could answer, parents generally knew when and with whom their kids were on the phone, and you couldn't talk too late at night or during meals. When we went on family vacations, that's what they were- it was just us, somewhere, spending time together completely cut off from our friends and the trappings of home. And it was wonderful. When we visited grandparents, it was just us spending time with them, entertaining ourselves with whatever we found in their house (our favorite being an old record player with a sing-a-long children's record, it was awesome). Now with texting, facebook, etc. I feel like that pure family time will be nearly impossible. There's always some game you could be playing, a friend you could chat with... I don't think it's all bad- I'm a big fan of social media (obviously, as you're reading my blog) and go through withdrawal if I go an hour without checking my email, but it's something I worry about, particularly with the kids. I guess it's just another boundary you have to set.

I'm thinking about this because Landon got his first electronic game type thing for Christmas. He's never shown any interest in our laptops, cell phones, etc., but I saw this Fisher Price iXL gaming system on sale at Target the day after Thanksgiving and thought we'd try it out. And he loves it. (I just looked on Amazon and it's listed at $90- that's crazy. It's great, but I got it for $60, and only felt like that was acceptable because I had my grandparents' $50 gift card for him. I don't think I'd buy it on my own for any of the prices it's listed at right now.) Anyway, for those interested, it's compact, simple, pretty sturdy (it's been dropped on tile and survived), and has 6 play options: tracing or drawing letters/numbers, following along with a story, drawing pictures, listening to music, playing adventure games, and looking at pictures (I uploaded a bunch of Claire for him to flip through). You can buy additional games for it and it's definitely one of Landon's favorite presents. So far it's a long car ride toy (since Landon still doesn't really watch TV or movies, it made the trip back from Houston after Christmas much easier; long car trips make me so jealous of the parents of kids who like movies) and a playing inside at night after it's dark toy. It doesn't go out with us to restaurants or for short car rides, and thanks to his 3-year-old attention span, he doesn't really play with it for too long during the day anyway (unlike his dad who apparently spent all of his waking, non-school time playing video games from about 3rd grade through 12th; that will not be happening in our house). So we don't have to care too much yet- it's a neat little toy, and he likes drawing pictures and hearing the Batman story, but I can't help but feel like it's all beginning...

Claire still just needs a box to be happy


  1. The electronic era can definitely create a problem for family time, but it really is all about boundaries. All of my kids have a multitude of electronic devices, but I think that we spend an above-average amount of time together without them.

    We have a "no phones at the table" policy, because dinnertime is a big part of our family time. I also won't let the kids have televisions or computers in their rooms, and I don't plan on changing this policy before they go to college. We have televisions and computers in our family areas so nobody can be holed up and checked out from the rest of the family (unless they're reading a book).

    I do love the electronics for long car trips, and finally have a built-in DVD player in my car--but it has only been used a handful of times. There's just no need to be plugged in for a 10 minute trip across town.

  2. Yeah I think our rules would be similar. JP had a TV in his room growing up and he admits it was one of the worst things his parents did in terms of dooming their relationship (obviously, they had problems to start with, I don't think every kid with a TV in their room is going to hate their parents, but they were already headed down that path and the TV in his room meant that JP only spent meal times outside of his room at home and there was really no interaction between the 3 of them).

    Do your girls keep their cell phones with them at night? That's another thing I was thinking about. I couldn't talk to friends late at night because I didn't have a phone in my room, but a cell phone would keep all channels of communication open. And it's not that I'm trying to start out acting like I don't trust my kids, I just can't think of any good reason anyone needs access to a cell phone after about 9 or 10 pm on a school night...

  3. (Oh and right after I wrote this Landon asked to take his "'puter" with him on the car ride to HEB, which is 2 minutes from our house. We said no, he got mad, so maybe it has begun!)

  4. $90 is really steep, but I'll keep my eye out for sales -- I bet K would love that. He has two electronic toys like that, both grandparent gifts. One is a Thomas "laptop" with some learning games (but you can't add to it) and the other is a VTech book/smart pen combo (otherwise known as the "magic pen" and "magic book"), one of those reading systems where the pen reads to you when you highlight a word or paragraph. K got that one for Christmas and he loves it. I'm a fan of that one too, since it does seem to be teaching him reading skills.

    I'm with you on technology during family time, though -- no electronics at the dinner table!

  5. At home, we don't use electronics at the dinner table, but restaurants? OMG. Sometimes some iPhone/iPad action is a lifesaver. I draw a hard and fast line at TV in the car-- not going to happen (streaming Netflix on an iPad? Ummm, ask me when we are en route to the Grand Canyon...)

  6. I fought this for YEARS. No xbox or nintendo at OUR house. Until my guys were in MS and HS, and patiently explained it was how boys talked and got to know each other-- through RPgames and other electronic games. My guys had gameboys, used for trips and really-idle time, which made them really out of it, apparently. So I relented, and let them have a game cube. so long as it was not connected to the family TV. Also out of it. Sigh. Older one goes to college and acquires his one gaming system. (I can't prove it, but I think he traded his camera, ostensibly "lost" for it.) Total lost cause on that front.

    Phones and texting? Both do it nonstop except during sit-at-the-table dinners (which have devolved to special dinners or meals out- my two now-adults have their busy social calendars.)

    Last June, HS graduation coincided with the Lakers' final championship game, Some of the kids even watched the game and mimed the results to their relatives in the stands. It was funny and should have been captured for the memory books, but it did, in my mind, take away a bit from the ceremony! This is the epitome, IMHO of the problem: they are almost never "in the moment" to enjoy what is happening where they are. ("Sweetie, could you please stop texting and look at the Grand Canyon?") A photo or video of something becomes as good as being there? Um, no.

    And no, I don't EVER know who's on the phone! Good luck to parents of younger kids trying to set limits-- it's really hard to keep ahead of the technology.

    I really don't think this 24/7 thing is necessary-- it's really OK to be out of communication for a while. Life does go on and solutions are found without your input. I don't know if we can or should teach this-- or if it's even possible. Heaven knows what the next "wave" will bring!

  7. I agree with you on this. I have a 6 year old and 4.5 year old, so they have a fair share of electronic devices. We have 2 leapsters (they're like the Fisher Price system, just older), 2 mp3 players, they have a computer, we have a wii. Leapsters stay home. They can only bring them with us on long car trips. They are not allowed to use their mp3 players at dinner. If we go out to eat, they color. They can also bring little toys, but nothing that enables them to zone out. We have a DVD player in the car too, but it's only for long car trips (i.e. longer than an hour).

    I think eating together as a family and talking is important. Because of my schedule, the weekend is the only time when we really can sit together and eat. Not only that, I think it's rude to be plugged in at mealtimes. People should focus on their table companions. We eat out a LOT and my kids are fine with 2 crayons and a paper menu. I don't think they need electronic devices at all times.

  8. One more thing - I'm totally with you on computers and TVs in the rooms. I won't allow it. I want to know what my kids are watching and what they're doing on the computer. I had no TV in my room and it really made a difference in what I watched (compared to my friends) because whatever I watched had to be suitable in case my parents walked by. Also, I think that I watch less TV as an adult because having to share a TV with family members meant that I just wastn't watching as much TV compared to my friends who had their own TVs.

  9. We have 3 adult children, age 22 to 28. When they were kids we didn't have any gaming systems except an old Atari from the 70s with a couple of games like Pong. (didn't get much use). Around junior high age we let them get little Gameboys to take on the bus to their sports events, but they had to buy their own games. Since they couldn't afford much, they got bored with them pretty quickly. I had many objections to them like yours, and I couldn't see wasting money on that stuff. We put in kid's music to sing to in the car, or just the music we all liked. I think they know the words to most music from the 70s to present! We had no TVs in their rooms either, and not in ours either to this day. They protested about the games, said everyone else had them, etc. BUT in the last few years they have told us we were right to limit their use of all the electronics. All of them were active in school activities, sports, music, dance or drama. Our time together in restaurants was (and still is) spent having interesting conversations or being goofy together. All of our kids are great people with many friends who know how to interact socially. Stick to your rules! It will be worth it in the long run.

  10. I have a freshman and a 7th grader. The freshman has an iphone. She hardly ever talks or texts on it. You can tell when there is a big project going at school or she and her friends are planning a movie night, because that is the only time it ever rings. We don't limit it - that's just the way she is. Maybe it's because my husband and I don't use our cell phones very much.

    The seventh grader didn't want a phone when he turned thirteen. He got a bike and is as happy as a clam. He borrows mine when he needs a phone.

    No facebook here either. The oldest wanted an account, but when she was WAY to young for it. Now that she understands how it works and how people use it, she is no longer interested.

    We have one computer in the house, in the kitchen. It's kind of a pain because so much homework is on the computer these days, but we are squeaking by for now...

    My husband caught a radio call-in program while traveling last fall. They were discussing the effect of social media on kids. One caller had taken away her daughter's cell phone for a week. She explained that her daughter, who is apparently part of the popular crowd, was ALWAYS texting and such. At the end of the week she said her daughter didn't want the phone back. It was a freeing feeling for her to not be in constant contact.

    I also wonder how much family time and personal thinking time is sucked away or interrupted by social media. I'm a child of the seventies and have always enjoyed my quiet time and worry what this constant, yet impersonal contact will do to society.


  11. I was just talking to my brother and sister in law about this (since they just had their first baby). The new mommy has found really helpful apps on it for baby stuff, but she's worried about using her phone too much around him...not just for health reasons, but as he gets older she doesnt want to set an example that its ok to be hooked on it all the time. We discussed the boundaries issue and I think as long as you treat it as an earned privilege and set reasonable limits, you'll be fine. And yeah, facebook for kids/teens is a terrible idea...they have enough drama in their lives that they dont need social media as another means to torment each other!

  12. Ugh...we have so many electronic devices in this house! But I'd like to think we have good rules and boundaries. This year, my son (almost 11) began getting rides with a family we just met to his club soccer practices in a diff. town. We activated one of the 'old' iphones (4 total) for him to use for this occasion only in case of emergency, being separated from his ride, etc. We allow his twin sister to use this same phone when she goes to her friends' house(again in case she needed to come home earlier). They have every video game system from xbox to playstation to wii to kinect for wii to blah blah blah. I have a rule though which I placed back when they got their first device which is "no electronic games on any device except on Friday, Saturday and Sunday." And the great kids they are actually follow this rule w.o. any grumbling! Lately, I've been relaxing the rule if they have a snow day or vacay day and allow about 1 hour total of play. But if it's a sick day, the rule stands! I am so mean! lol About restaurants, obviously my older kids don't need distractions to keep them quiet so that the other patrons and we may enjoy our meal out. But I do carry along an iPad for my 4 year old who plays matching games, word games, number games and some coloring if she gets fidgety. I like to think of it as bringing along a pack of crayons and a coloring book...yeah, that's my story! It will be scary if/when they carry phones regularly.

  13. I have a 7th grader and a Freshman. My Freshman has an iPhone, my 7th grader has a phone designed for heavy-texting. No phones are allowed at the dinner table. The exception? When I have work stuff going on that requires my attention. if the choice is phone at the table or me in the office, which are we going to choose?

    Both my kids have their own laptops. They are kept in their rooms. I have monitoring rights, and that is well known. The girls are both required to store their histories. if I walk in the room, they have to show me what they're doing. I exercise these rights. There have been moments where I was not happy with what I saw, and we had very serious conversations, with laptop privileges threatened.

    My 14 yo has a "technology curfew" - no texting or internet after 10 p.m. (I'm sure that sounds very late to those who do not have 14 yos ....). Her computer and phone are put in the hallway. She is allowed to keep her iPod (no internet connection).

    My 12 yo doesn't have the same pull to technology that her sister has.

    I tend to watch our text/phone usage on AT&T, and I see when it happens too late, or too frequently, and I address it as necessary. The girls respond well to my reactions.

    I'm pretty comfortable with our arrangements.

    When the girls were 2 and 4 in the year 2000, and CD-Roms for kids were all over the place, I was so proud of my resistance to kids & computers. I never would have imagined - then - that my kids would each have 2 (at least) iPods, cell phones starting in (5th? 6th?) grades and each their own laptop starting in 6th grade, and that we'd have unlimited texts for the whole family.

    I also wouldn't have anticipated how important texting between myself and my kids would be. Or that my daughter and I would be "friends" on Facebook. But things have evolved in a way that I am very comfortable with.

    When it seems like things are getting to be too much, I still have the power to change it. The girls are respectful of the limits, no matter how they change, and they are still engaged with the family. I think it works.

  14. I have two boys, 13 and 17. Both have phones with no internet access, and we have a family laptop that's in the office.

    They've both asked for their own laptops, and I'm standing my ground. They have gaming systems (ps2 for the younger, Xbox360 for the older) and we've had to set time limits on those. Imagine how much worse it would be if they had XBox Live. So, no way.

    Also, we put a porn blocker on the laptop, because, you know, BOYS.

  15. We don't allow TV's in the bedrooms, although we do have one in the game room.

    My children are 8 and 13. My 13 year old son has an internet-enabled phone (brand new) and an ipod touch. Just can't keep it away from them.

    Sadly enough, I do admit we use my ipod touch, ipad, and the younger one's DS to keep them occupied at restaurants. I'd prefer a quiet meal rather than listen to the constant bickering. The 13 yo is capable of carrying on a decent conversation, if he's in a good mood that day!

    Honestly though, technology has been a part of their lives from the beginning. We had a VCR installed in the minivan we bought when our son was a baby. Long drives to visit the inlaws were usual for us and I was ok with Barney or Sesame Street. Maybe not the best solution, but what is one to do with a five hour drive and a two year old?

    I will also 'fess up and say that I have a wireless hotspot for my Ipad and I was cruising the net while my husband was driving across Louisiana this past Christmas night. Sweetness itself!!!

    Texting is constant for the 13 yo. Just constant. Practically the only way to reach him. Facebook is different. Technically he is too young, but that doesn't seem to matter; he has "artificially" increased his age. What we have worked out is his grandmother has friended him and she watches his posts; anything remotely worrysome is sent to me. But so far, nothing alarming. I'm not going to insist that he friend me. I'll give him some freedom knowing that my MIL will watch my back.

    Oh, Lisa.....Xbox Live....hate that sucker. Banished Xbox from my house for six months when my son's grades went downhill. My 13 yo just earned it back after starting junior high and athletics - his grades have been markedly improved. Two weeks into Xbox back in the house and I am ready to tear my hair out with the chatter. We'll see. Now you have just raised another issue with the porn. Gee THANKS!

  16. Re: Facebook... Someone can still be your friend on Facebook but greatly limit the information you are able to see on their profile, your access to their posts, comments by their friends, their photos, etc. Pretty worrisome if you ask me. It's a trust issue. We all work hard from the moment we become parents to raise honest, decent children who want to confide everything to us but kids will need their privacy and demand it if we hold them to a tight leash. Again I say, the teen years are scaring me!