Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Parenting our digital children – social networking

So I have been told by my son that I need to blog more and I say “yes” but thinking only if you let me have the laptop so I can do it!  Some of the lack of blogging has been finding time itself.  I knew life was going to speed up at the end of January but not quite as much as it did and so much that I have found that I have been overdoing it once again and have been getting tired with the desire to do absolutely nothing but be still and quiet and just potter.  Sometimes I wonder if I am having depressive moments other times I wonder if it is something more because ow is the time to celebrate as I am officially a year out of all cancer treatment!  So why am I feeling this way and want to get lost in Facebook games. May be its just this time of year when the weather is cold, there is lack of sunlight but whatever it is I have had to drop a few things not only that I have some time for myself but also to be there for my son.  Teenagers are funny animals they stay stuck in their bedrooms all night perhaps saying very little to you but they still want you around for them and right now as I am writing this blog he is trying to tell what to do with my blog – and then gets upset because I don’t respond – it’s not my way of multitasking!

“Many people feel they must multi-task because everybody else is multitasking, but this is partly because they are all interrupting each other so much.”  Marilyn Vos Savant

It’s becoming evident that sharing a laptop is not working out that well between my son and I and a better arrangement needs to be made at least allowing me more time on it.  Ideally it would be good to get another laptop so he has one all of his own but it’s not that easy.  He was brought an Xbox for a birthday present last year to enable to give me more time on the laptop – but as well as playing games on his Xbox he actually doing more on designing and creating his own You Tube Channel, recording, creating videos, blogs, updating his own website and using twitter to plug!  That’s fine and dandy and I am proud of his skill, creativeness and entrepreneurial spirit but that means I get even less time on the laptop to do the very basic things I want to do. He needs his own computer to be able to do all this, and after spending a week of work experience at a local media design company he realizes that needs an Apple Mac – in fact everything Apple.  Living on a budget does not allow me to easily buy anything but the necessities at the moment especially, since I am also now not getting child maintenance either which has curtailed my budget even more. 

“Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.” - Arthur C. Clarke 

Technology just changes so fast that I am unable to keep up with it but my son can and his future is going to very much depend on how he can use technology to his own advantage.  Hopefully his You Tube Chanel will enable him to make some pocket money!  Washing cars is too much effort and not lucrative enough these days as you can now get it done already at the local garage for a fiver!

"Gaming is almost like the scientific method. You get your quest, you form a hypothesis, you try it out, you encounter challenges and you draw conclusions."

My son had his first Facebook page aged 11 and - I know that may raise some eyebrows -, at the same time ensured I had his password and was a “friend” and indeed at 15 I still have access and I will now again question some posts.  In these days of technology and peer pressure you can't stop children creating a Facebook or networking page at friends’ homes, even at the local library, and you may not know they have access to FB or any other networking site. My son is that kind of child – his thirst for technology started early and if I disallowed a FB page at home he would have created one anyway in another way.  You have to be 13 to have a FB account - but that doesn't take account of those who lie about their age to get one which FB can't do anything about. When I agreed that my son could have a FB account at 11 we went through the rules of networking and I was glad he had an account that I was aware of and monitoring than going behind my back.  There are disadvantages on technology but a least I know where he is, what he is doing - which would be different if he was out on the streets every evening and where weirdo's could be met that are far more dangerous than on the net. There is another question I would add here - how many of you let your children play games not age appropriate, watch films or listen to the news?

“Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we do not experience it.”

There are so many dangers in this world and my son is well aware of them including the dangers of technology as I made sure that he was.  You can't wrap you children in too much cotton wool and I shudder at some of things I was doing at my son's age and younger like playing on a school building site, and in some cases hanging out with some quite unsuitable people and tricky situations which my parents never knew about. In some ways children are much more naive than I was as a teenager despite all the knowledge at their fingertips - they are not necessarily getting the opportunities of the life experiences that we had growing up. Families are so much more fragmented than years ago and contact with them is important – technology allows this.  Children live in a digital world where as parents we have come to it second-hand having had different freedoms than our children. Where once I was taught not to accept sweets from strangers I think this concept also needs to be taught on Facebook and other networking sites more rigorously by parents and educators, as well as respect and awareness and the understanding of privacy.  As parents one of our main jobs are to prepare our children for the adult world they will eventually live and interact in and thus wouldn't it be better that we help our children have the necessary skills by teaching them earlier of this digital world they live in? Technology is not something we can ignore for our kids. 

“In times of radical change the learners inherit the earth while the learned find themselves perfectly equipped for a world that no longer exists. “Erik Hoffer

Most children today are better at surfing the Internet or using a smartphone than swimming or making their own breakfast. Five-year-old children are able to Google when they want to know something. We allow our children to go to after-school school clubs to help them to become better musicians, athletes, actors, artists. Just think how we might broaden their experience even more by guiding our children towards the tools and communities online that can help them learn the skills they most want to master.

“The digital world, it's about finding things, making your life more efficient, enjoying things, rather than having them only live in the darkness of your hard drive”

For most children there’s never been a time in their lives when computers, digital video, cell phones, video games, the Internet and all the other digital wonders haven’t surrounded them. Constant exposure to digital media has changed the way our children process, interact and use information thus making communication fundamentally different.

“The Internet is just a world passing around notes in a classroom.”

Children are still children though. They have the same issues, the same insecurities, the same hurt feelings, the same immature ways of looking and thinking about things that we did but whereas we learned many of our social skills outside, on the street, in the park such as working in groups to solve problems, taking turns in leading and following, fighting and reconciling, negotiating all face-to-face the same cannot quite be said for our children of today.  Our communications were basic - one phone shared with the family,  long distance phone calls expensive; letters took days from the time they were sent to when they were received and even longer to be responded to. The Information we had was also limited. Radio and TV but not as many channels as we have today (although I still find that there is nothing I want to watch!) and we found other things to do like playing board games, going out. World events were something we read or heard about often long after they had taken place. Most of our information came from newspapers, magazines, books, encyclopedias, teachers and the library.

“Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.”  – Jimmy Wales, founder, Wikipedia

As a result of this changing world, parents today spend 40% less quality time with their children than parents did just 30 years ago for many different social reasons. The scarcest resource for many families today is not time but attention - with a consequent void in children’ lives that needs to be filled - technology has filled this gap.  It started years ago with the telephone, radio, and TV, and then progressed to videos and video games. Now it’s on-line gaming, email, surfing, on-line chatting, cell phones, blogging, texting, and a growing host of other digital experiences.  In this 24/7 world  the digital age has become the babysitter, a constant companion, and best friend. These devices enable their rooms to be filled with people, relationships, interactions and adventures that come through their computers, phones, and video games. As a result our children are equally as comfortable with virtual, screen-to-screen relationships as they are with face-to-face relationships.

"From the Stone Age, to the Industrial Age, to the Information Age, the rate of technological change has increased exponentially, and appears to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  Our world is changed by new technical innovations every second of every day, and we struggle to deal with the negative impacts on society, as well as reap the great benefits of technological innovation. " - Mr. Silverman

 Children today take for granted that they can view world events as they occur and see history in the making. They watched the collapse of the World Trade Center  the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and disasters such as the Sumatran tsunami, the eruption of volcanoes  floods and starvation, it’s in real time and the notion of time and distance means a different thing to all of us in this now global world.  Children have instantaneous access to literally every museum in the world, views and opinions, and answers to their questions.  They also have instant access to friends, games, music, movies, shopping, cheat sheets, and tens of thousands of online sites and even now my son plays his Xbox games and shares his You Tube Channel across the world where he is building up new and interesting relationships.

“I’m a modern man, a man for the millennium. Digital and smoke free. A diversified multi-cultural, post-modern deconstruction that is anatomically and ecologically incorrect. I've been up linked and downloaded, I've been inputted and outsourced, I know the upside of downsizing, I know the downside of upgrading. I’m a high-tech low-life. A cutting edge, state-of-the-art bi-coastal multi-tasker and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond!” George Catlin

My son told me today that as grows older he will keep up with all new technology and he probably will but then went on to say that he would different to where I was now bridging the gap from being brought up in a low tech world to his digital word.  But there again hasn't it been the same for many decades where there has always been a gap to bridge between our children and parents?  Teenagers are apt to have their own language from the “groovy” to the “cool” to the “sick”. Just try this quiz and see just what I mean: Test Your Teen Slang - http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/family/parenting-tips/test-teen-slang-quiz

Digital children have a completely new and digital language and different set of skills than the ones we have and value. New research is inferring that because of pervasive digital bombardment and the new emergence of the digital landscape the brains of our children have and continue to change physically and chemically – children are actually neurologically wired differently than from our generation. They have developed what is called a cultural brain.  They access, absorb, interpret, process and use information in such a way that it effects the way they view, interact, and communicate because of their experiences with digital technologies.

“My Dad always gets really annoyed at me when we watch TV together as he says that I should only do one thing at a time, rather than 100 things at a time. It is not that bad, yes I am on Facebook, texting my friends, chatting to people, gaming, browsing the Internet, looking at YouTube clips, but I am still watching the show” (14yr old boy)

I can relate to that quote above on the dad’s side – it is annoying!
It can be a scary digital world out there for us parents and somehow we need to be able to leverage our children’s digital lifestyle to help them become better and more engaged, and more independent. We need to know what sites they are accessing, and show some interest on what they are doing, teach them internet safety (although I sometimes think my son knows a lot more about this than I actually do!) and be open that they can come and talk to you about any problems they are having – if you can have access to passwords and become a friend on networking sites as well that would be good as well although I wouldn't advise that probing or commenting too much unless it becomes a concern – eg. Cyber-bullying.  It’s quite easy to also look at internet history so you can see what sites your children are accessing – giving yourself administration rights to computers. For younger children a parental filter can be set up.   If your children are accessing sites you disapprove then a conversation would be good.  Remember many a teenage boy has hidden a mag under his bed before now and yes I have explained to my son why I am not keen on them!  Banning and restricting sites for older children can be counterproductive as they can always go elsewhere to find the information they want. 

“If we want to prepare them for the world that awaits them - unfold their full intellectual & creative genius  - and want to help them prepare for their future, not our past - for their future, not our comfort zone - we must create a bridge between their digital world and ours within families and schools.”

And yes while writing this there are  battles to be fought with my digital teenager – like the amount of time he spends in front of a screen – sure it’s not good for him  there is a life outside a screen and sharing the laptop with me so I can write my own blogs and poetry and of course play my own Facebook games!

“We and our children live in amazing times, remarkable times, and overwhelming times and our time is not measured in terms of centuries, or decades but in years and sometimes months, weeks, days and hours. We live in a moment in history where change has become so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it’s already disappearing into the past. “