Techno Tots

Woman Texting by Petr Kratochvil

I love traditions. I love the routine and flow of them, the predictability, the comfort. Our family is pretty young — our girls are 5 and 7 — so our traditions are relatively new. We watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade every year and usually the dog show too. Christmas morning means stockings, then breakfast, then the paper-ripping gala of presents. On Thanksgiving, we begin our celebration the night before, with a family dinner at Friendly’s. This year, our ice-cream extravaganza gave me an opportunity to think about family time and the more amorphous traditions that structure our day-to-day.

As we sat in our maroon vinyl booth, delighted with our sundaes, I noticed that every other family in the room was busy with electronic devices — cell phone, DSS, iPod. In the booth across the way, one mother and her son spent the entire meal in silence, thumbs and fingers furiously pecking at small, electronic keys. They never spoke a word.

Now, I can be a bit of a chatterbox, when I’m not busy being shy, and I love to talk with and listen to the goofiness and imagination of my kids. The idea of spending an entire meal without speaking to them made me more than a little uncomfortable. Sure, there are days when a quiet meal doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. Quiet? Yes, please — but not that much, and not that kind.

We homeschool, and one of the ways we stitch the fabric of our days together is through learning, sharing ideas and the process of thinking. At Friendly’s that night, after the girls finished coloring their placements, I tossed them bits of math. Rainbow Girl — who could easily be renamed Math Girl — learned how to multiply exponents in her head. Math was always a struggle for me, but she loves it — LOVES it. It might just be her secret superpower: five to the third, Kazaam!

On dog walks or long car rides, we play Math Adventures. Boo Monkey subtracts mermaids and unicorns in outer space while Rainbow Girl practices exponents on fairy wings and chocolate bars. I make the stories up as I go . . . If mama drank four to the third power cups of coffee in the morning and two to the third power cups in the afternoon, how crazy would she be? Plenty crazy, but it hardly matters. I have princesses and Martians to keep me company. I have family time — our own configuration.

Now, I’m not a Luddite, intent on smashing up technology. I write on a beautiful desktop computer. I adore my Kindle — thousands of books in a purse!  And we just got an iPad that I am tempted to marry, but it’s not quite as cute as my husband and it can’t cook or wash dishes. The kids have a host of learning apps on the iPad. They also play Angry Birds and Princess Sticker Dress-Up. Personally, I’m addicted to iPad Solitaire, but I’ve always loved a good lost cause. We don’t watch a lot of television, but that’s just because we’re usually busy doing other things.

Still, given all of that, I can’t imagine spending dinner — or swim lessons or playground time — hooked to wireless instead of my kids. My kids are funnier and brighter and more unpredictable than any digital stream. When I spend too much time in front of a screen my head starts to feel a little like a box. Sure, the box has great reception, but it also has flat and limiting sides. Every box is finite. Every box confines. There is a place for media in my children’s world but, for me, it is never front and center.

That place belongs to learning, to the process of working through ideas. It’s what we like, so it works for us. I guess, in a way, it’s our day-to-day tradition, the ritual that walks us through the flow of time, its unsteady passage. We do school in the mornings. I write in the afternoons. While I write, the girls invent — music, art, blocks, dolls, entire worlds of make-believe. At dinner, we tell our respective tales. It’s a little unruly. It’s never quiet. But it’s a tradition I hope we keep, one that knits our lives together, tighter than a keystroke.

What are your family traditions? How do your feel about the ever-presence of texting/games? Feel free to disagree with me — I’m open to learning something new! 🙂


11 thoughts on “Techno Tots

  1. Sweet P is still fighting the TV-free weekdays, but Buckaroo hardly seems to notice unless it’s Monday. He wakes up and asks to read _Harry Potter_. Yay! I think we might have to have a “Ditch the Device Day” once a month, though. Just as much for the grownups as for the kids.

    • Yeah for Harry Potter!
      For me, “Ditch the Device Day” would be too “rule-like” and that makes my skin itch a bit, to be honest 🙂
      For us, it works better to just keep the focus on the pieces of life that we like more — games, books, learning, adventures. Technology is there when we want or need it — Google is a good buddy in our house — but it takes a back seat to almost everything else. Except laundry. And dishes.

  2. I am a full-time graduate student who admittedly is very much attached to her iPhone and laptop. I use them to check e-mail, listen to music, assemble papers, text professors and other students, surf the web at any given moment- the list goes on. However, disconnecting from them both from time to time is a fantastic, refreshing feeling. I had a family similar to yours growing up, with lots of talking and thinking at the dinner table and during family activities (it’s still like that now, actually). I can’t imagine family life where actual human interaction wasn’t experienced! I love your take on the whole concept, keep up the great writing!

    • Katie,
      Thanks so much for sharing your perspective and experiences. I always hope that the path we’re on will lead to good memories for our daughters. It’s so lovely to hear your thoughts, growing up in a similar family and having those connections. Thank you 🙂

  3. Lisa,
    It is hard to strike a balance between the good that technology can bring us and the limits it can put on our creativity. It seems as if your family has forged a healthy relationship with all “those boxes.”
    Technology is a tool that can bring much convenience and even beauty into our lives. My digital camera and its editing software are the tools of my trade. And it is through our virtual connection that I am able to share this conversation with you. That capability has brought incredible joy to my life.
    But I agree with you that, within daily family life, the constant need to be “plugged in” to the outside world can erode our ability to simply “be” together. To listen to one another. To communicate.

    • Brenda,
      You have definitely made camera tech work for you — your photos are beautiful and brilliant. It’s a marvelous thing, this techy-stuff, as long as it serves and doesn’t rule, I think.

  4. I really really love this post. My “kids” are older: college & med school, but we really emphasized non-technology fun and creativity. (They also watched TV and played video games but were amazing at self limiting! I was so lucky!) I loved long and short car rides with all the long talks, stories, songs, etc., amazing times! And I also (like you will I’m sure) raised really thoughtful, creative, and curious kids! I’m so proud my daughter is studying science and loves organic chemistry — I didn’t know that was possible, LOL! I really think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we actually paid attention to each other. Really listened, just as you say. Technology at the dinner table? YUCK. I’ve been out to dinner and see couples NOT TALKING, with perhaps the husband or wife or both on cell phones — AWFUL! Poor poor kids, poor poor relationship! GREAT post, Lisa, sorry for the ranting comment 🙂

    • Julia,
      It’s always so wonderful to get your perspective. I love what you write here about paying attention. I definitely try for that, lose it sometimes in the whirlwind, and then pick it back up. I also love the homemade pizza idea — we might have to add that to our growing list.

  5. I should’ve also said: I love the traditions you’re starting! So important! We have several, but one is my favorite: one year each of us made our own homemade pizza for Christmas eve — now it’s such a standard in our family, just what we do, every Christmas eve, lots of room for creativity and innovation. It’s a blast & so FUN!

  6. An important topic! Personally, I’m not as good at setting limits for my own technology use as I should be. We’re really strict with the kids though. We even returned the Wii the grandparents got them for hanukkah a few years ago. I let them do other stuff (computer, tv) but there’s a long list of things they have to do before they get to indulge. Meanwhile, I could use a list like that for myself!!

    • Hi Nina,
      It is tough to disconnect when the technology is work related and we’re feeling like we have SO much to get done. I have gone through periods where I tried to put more structure on my on-line time (Twitter, Blogs), but I’m still looking for the perfect balance.

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