Struck by a brainwave…

16 January 2011

Last week, I listened to a BBC radio 4 woman’s hour podcast. I know, this says a lot about me 😉 , but I just LOVE the programme. I draw immense comfort from listening to it when pottering around, it’s a wonderful source of food for thought. (Just for the record, I need to stress here that I do NOT listen to THE ARCHERS. Ever.) The episode I listened to last week struck a particular chord with me, as the programme featured a new book by author/ columnist Susan Maushart which is called The Winter Of Our Disconnect. In a nutshell, Maushart disconnected her whole family — she has three teenage children — from the computer and internet for six months and then wrote a book about the experience. She did not embark on the project due to her childrens’ habits, but due to her own relationship with all things IT: She admits in the interview that one day she realized she had a quasi ‘sexual’ relationship with her iPhone: It went to bed with her, she bought it clothes and it had a name. She even found herself caressing the gadget when out and about in town. So she felt this had to end and thus the six months’ long experiment came along. Now, I don’t own an iPhone and I don’t want one either. My mobile phone is so old that no thief would nick it, it has no MP3 player function, can’t access the internet and is basically only useful for making telephone calls and sending the odd text. It has a camera but the pictures are crap, and it does not sleep anyway near me, on the contrary, I mislay it frequently…. But what struck me about the Maushart interview was her statement that we have this ever expanding computer and internet technology at our disposal, but we do not know how to handle it sensibly. I know, this is not rocket science and I know a number of people have said this before, but her statement, at that point in time, just made me add 2 and 2 together.
Us being a family with a teenage son and a pre-teenage daughter, we know a bit about the joys and pains that accompany the process of growing up. Although our children are by no means extremely challenging, they have their moments too. One of the most contentious issues with teenage children must be the time spent in front of a computer. And we are no exception. You know, they get sucked into the virtual world with facebook, games, skype,…blogging (?) you name it. I know this, I get sucked into this world so easily myself. School doesn’t and, I guess can’t, teach you how to use a computer sensibly and parents are often hardly a good example (I include myself here 🙂 ). Parental control measures such as such as restricting time on the computer or removing the computer from a bedroom may help, but they do not teach a child to control him/ herself. I am sure that once these constraints are gone (i.e. kids move out), a lot of young adults will not be able to manage their computer consumption sensibly. I am now convinced that teaching children techniques on how to use the computer in a healthy fashion is the most challenging aspect of raising kids in our time. And I don’t mean things like just introducing them other pastimes such as sports, real-life friendships and boardgames, no, I mean that children need to learn to critically reflect on how they use their computers. They need tools to disentangle themselves from the highly seductive world of the internet. I think that I, as a parent who grew up without computers at all, can manage this world more easily, although I have make conscious efforts too to limit my computer time: It is not really necessary to check email four times a day, two times a day is more than enough. But it must be so much harder for children, who grow up with 24 hour access to friends and, indeed the whole wide world. So I am currently trying to figure out how to equip my children with suitable tools to manage the often colourful, curious, inspiring and informative internet and all things related to this weird and wonderful world. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated. Likewise, we are experimenting at the moment and if I come up with good strategies, I will surely share them with all you lovely parents out there. Or I’ll just write a book about it 🙂 … By the way, I won’t read Maushart’s book, I am just grateful I listened in to the interview which enabled me to make a connection. If you read the book, let me know if it’s any good :), I might then reconsider.

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