The iPhone/iPad/Kindle Truce of 2014

We cannot beat the devices – they have infiltrated our lives irreversibly.  True – if one moves to a remote island, becomes Amish or sails around the world disconnected from civilization – one can avoid the digital devices. We cannot. Of course, if one cannot afford a digital device, one is facing more important challenges than this one.  That said, since we don't want to eliminate all electronics from our lives, we have to find a way to live in harmony with the devices designed for distraction. I am thrilled that all summer, while at camp, my children experience life device free. But we don't have the stomach to live device free year round.

The effort to exert parental restriction on the digital devices was teaching our children how to become adept at evading detection and dishonesty.  So what is worse -  unmonitored use of digital devices where the device is quickly absorbing much of their unstructured time or the same thing, but having to discern if my child is lying, hiding or otherwise evading interference?

Our initial thoughts on battle strategies:

  • Keep Parentkit on the devices (even though it blocks Spotify, Instagram and Safari) as a requirement for keeping the device
  • Eliminate all games from the devices and ensure they have no way to put them back on by taking away their iTunes account where they use their iTunes gift cards.
  • Switch from iPhone to Android where there are applications for parents to control the device remotely.
  • Take away the devices

Every parent of an (upper) middle class middle-schooler seems to be embroiled in the same struggle.  As far as struggles go, there are some much worse – our children are healthy and safe.  So it’s a first world “problem”. That said, it’s our first world problem. We know that the devices keep our children from socializing face to face and creatively filling their free time.  Or being bored. Or running around. They have unprecedented access to all types of entertainment – at their fingertips (more on that another time). And the answers aren’t simple – suburban tweens and teens communicate and make plans overwhelmingly through these devices.

Our goal is that our children are capable, as young adults, to make responsible choices about how they use technology.  We had a family meeting to talk about what technology is doing to our family.  We invited our children to make a contract with us as the providers of the phone and wireless service and to articulate what they thought was reasonable use and what the consequences would be if they violated the agreement.  We wrote it out and it’s posted in our house.  Here is what we agreed upon:

  1. No devices in bedrooms.  Ever.
  2. No devices in the car until the trip is longer than one hour.  There is no need to text in the car while going from place to place.  If a text comes in, it can be addressed when you arrive at your destination.
  3. Everyone’s devices are placed in the charging stations by the front door when they arrive.  This applies to Mom and Dad too.  The au pair may take his upstairs.  Use the new, super cool charging stations.
  4. Devices can be used for listening to music while doing homework.  Devices can be used for listening to music on the bus.
  5. On the weekends or no-school days, individual devices can be used for 30 minutes per day for entertainment in a public space in the house.  The child will set their timer after stating that they are going to use their 30 minutes.  After that time, they can play together on the Xbox, play board games, cards, go outside, etc.
  6. On a weekend or no-school day when a child is alone in the house, they may have another 30-minute window.

And the consequences:

  • First violation, lose device for one day
  • Second violation, lose device for three days
  • Third violation, lose device for full week

What do you think?  How long do you think the treaty will keep the peace?

Hands off my iPad

It's hopeless. Although I carefully meter out the time my children can spend using my iPad, iPhone or HTC Incredible, my three kids are drawn to the devices like a moth to a flame. Even the four year old knows how to intuitively use the device and a variety of applications on it. And what parent doesn't value a simple way to keep children occupied at a doctors waiting room, restaurant or long trip.

The attractiveness of smart devices for both children and parents is leading many companies to create apps for the IOS (Apple iPhone/iPad operating system) and for Android (Google's mobile operating system). Researchers are studying how parents and children are using the devices. And schools are looking to smart devices as a way to ensure students graduate with tech savvy and to reduce their textbook spending.

In November, PBS published a study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, capturing both the volume of smart device use AND the benefits. For example, the study showed that 2/3 of children between the ages 4-7 have used an iPhone or iPod touch. In fact, it turns out that my method of keeping the peace in the car is shared by many parents - children most often use the devices in the car.

The same study also demonstrated that children made gains in vocabulary comprehension, letter identification and rhyming after using PBS KIDS applications - MARTHA SPEAKS and SUPER WHY!.

Stuart Dredge of the Guardian identifies key trends for children's apps:
voice (Grandma, Mom reading the story),  pop-up interactivity (think interactive books),  licensed characters (Dora, Barbie, Pokemon) independent characters (Angry Birds), cameras and augmented reality (must get the Monster Scan app he mentioned), digital sandboxes (whiteboard) and education (flashcards, memory joggers, special needs).

The one thing that seems obvious is that the kids use Apps that are fun. My children love Simon Says, Labyrinth, Batter Up, Mastermind, Plants vs. Zombies, Amazon, Scribble and Solitaire (oldie by goodie). They know that they cannot use the iPad without permission and that permission is only granted in the car (after 1 hour of continuous travel), doctors office or weekend morning (provided they have practiced music and are dressed for the day). I'm not convinced any of these games are building academic skills - but they are learning problem solving, persistence and strategy - while having fun. In thirty minute maximum play periods, it seems like there is hope after all.

Article first published as Hands off my iPad: Children and Apps on Technorati. 

Declining to chat - safe social media

On a recent flight cross country, I was seated in the row behind my children (a specularly superior configuration than across the aisle, by the way) and tried Virgin America's seat-to-seat chat feature by inviting them to "chat with me".  I listened as they asked each other what the invitation actually was and was somewhat proud when they rejected my request.
Read More

Device-off time - aka "breakfast"

Today's New York Times technology section highlighted a trend where families find themselves waking their teen's via text, lunging for laptops before and during breakfast, and basically feeling panicked if they cannot check Facebook before 7am.  This is not progress.  And this is setting up our kids to be stressed out and potentially very lonely.  There just isn't a device that can give a hug, celebrate achievements or wipe away a tear.

Read More

Technologies we love for practical parenting

According to What's Going on in There and Einstein Never Used Flashcards, the very best toy for the development of a child's mind is wood blocks - no technology needed.  But balancing the requirements of work, family and activities is tricky and thankfully there are great technologies that have emerged that let us focus on parenting - and hopefully give us more time to be with the kids.

My top ten favorite enabling technologies for parenting (see them all here in their screen shot glory):

Read More

Great back to school bargains from Parenting

Parenting published a gallery of 25 money'saving products for Moms (and Dads).  The sure shoe-laces got special kudos on Twitter today - and I'll be buying those for our boys who seem to shred shoelaces weekly.

My thoughts on the others:

  1. The shoe-laces are a must buy and I'll be doing that today.
  2. Re-usable cloths to wipe up are generally a very good idea - ecologically and financially
Read More