The world has changed.
When I was in elementary school, our computer lab existed for the PAWs program, which taught us how to type on a keyboard, and if we were lucky enough to finish our exercises in time, play Oregon Trail.
By the time I hit junior high, I was experimenting with some of the first online messaging programs with my friends.
By high school, I even had my own computer for writing papers on. I also took it to college with me, but it was a large desktop dependent on dial-up internet in my dorm.
Now my five and eight year olds can’t play their iPads in front of my two year old because he doesn’t have his own yet and really wants one.
As a millennial, I do remember having access to technology when I was coming “of age”--one of the distinguishing marks of our generation. I also remember experimenting with most of it alone. Thank God nothing bad happened. (But that could in part be because I was still dependent on film to take a picture, or those really cool disposable cameras).
The world has changed. My kids go to kindergarten with an iPad.
As parents, we have a choice. We can refuse to admit that it's changed. This, I think, would look like severely limiting their access to a screen. But that would be difficult since we ourselves use them all the time.
Or, we can change with it. This is easier said than done, at least for me. But unlike my adolescent years, I am really grateful to not have to try to climb the technology curve alone.
My kids’ school (the Academy for G.O.D.) helps us pitiable parents out. When I walked into their bi-annual technology seminar for parents, I thought they would mostly remind me how to get twitter alerts to my phone (I do know that much).
But it was far more than that. They helped me set up the safety features on my child’s device, as well as explain where those safety features fall short. Apps with search tools like Pinterest can easily expose little eyes to things they should never see, simply because the device is so “smart.” For instance, when you type in s-e- (w, because your daughter wants to sew something), -x will come up instead, with a slew of inappropriate images. Other child-friendly apps like “Angry Birds” are now loaded with advertisements that have no rating, and can include females wearing very little clothing attempting to intervene in a very violent war (why, just why is that on my child’s iPad?). As the facilitators educated the parents, I watched every range of emotion in the room--fury, sadness, shock--but all eventually turned to gratitude for the information being shared. Parents were being empowered to navigate a world they didn't know as kids. It's ongoing. Tech administrator Nathan Cameron started a whole blog of tips and how-to's for parents to access in order to get a better handle on their own device, or their child's.
The Academy recognizes that both teachers and parents need to be on the same page in regards to protecting children, while still preparing them to be “in the world but not of it.” When “minecraft” was all the rage for kids to play, the Academy didn’t just shut it down altogether. Instead, one of their lead teachers, Mr. Aaseby, created an entire “world” where kids could still utilize the creative aspects of the game, without exploring the modes where you create weapons to fend of frenzied mobs (or something like that). That’s right--a grown up loved kids enough to take something that could expose kids to harmful things and instead redeem it, making it a safe way for kids to build and create “worlds” while still being monitored by their teachers. In fact, Mr. Aaseby is known for showing up in their worlds, even on the weekends.
As a part of their schooling, students at the Academy utilize a social forum to discuss things with their classmates or post about their thoughts. When you have kids the ages of mine, it mostly means a lot of e-mail notifications filled with snake and lightning bolt emojis (or pink bows and painted nails for girls). But as they grow, they are learning how to present themselves to others on a virtual network, how their words can affect another, and what a safe forum is for such communication. While pictures are posted about the world’s greatest play dates, parents and teachers can monitor what is happening and even ask the children questions about what made it so #epic.
The iPad is an educational tool. It’s also a social one. It has so much good to offer. But it also has some bad. For a school to care about children so much that they demand that parents catch up to our changing world is an incredible blessing. All I can hope for is more schools to take up this depth of responsibility.
The world has changed. Either close your eyes and ears and pretend it’s not happening, or get involved in both guiding and protecting your child through the virtual reality we’ve created for them.