Why we just say no (to technology) | Two Decades of Kids and Counting | Sally Torbey | Palo Alto Online |


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By Sally Torbey

Why we just say no (to technology)

Uploaded: Oct 13, 2013

When we meet folks from other places and they hear we live in Silicon Valley, they assume we are early adopters and our lives revolve around technology. In fact, we try to keep our home as technology free as possible.

With our older children, who were born in the 90s, our approach to technology was simple, " just say no". We said no to TV, computer games, and movies. Our kids entertained themselves better and fought less when TV was not an option. When the kids were little, avoiding it was far easier than monitoring it.

At the kids got older, we continued to place restrictions on technology use. When they reached middle school, they were permitted a cell phone that was to be used only to call us. Email access came in high school with the caveat that I would monitor it. We finally relented on Facebook, only because that was how their church youth group organized ballroom dance gatherings.

Despite this draconian approach, both of our older kids seem to have a relationship to technology typical of young adults, they are completely reliant upon it. Last month, the most difficult adjustment for my daughter during her semester abroad in Paris was not speaking French, navigating the metro, or getting along with her host family, but it was the lack of Internet access in her bedroom (and no closet). "Of course I want an immersion experience," she sobbed, "but not if it means wrinkled dresses and no Skype!"

Unfortunately, abstaining from technology has not been an option while raising our younger new millennium kids. Completing homework now requires the computer, texting has replaced phone calls, and I am old and tired.

As our older children regularly remind us, we parent their younger siblings very differently than we did them. The younger children watch movies on weekend evenings and on car trips (as well as eat more sugar and practice piano less). We still do not have TV channels, but since everything is now available by computer, our elementary and middle school students are required to use my computer in the kitchen for homework. Even with that precaution, one of our elementary students figured out how to use the homework google docs account from school as an unmonitored, unauthorized email system. I had no idea that was even possible.

Due to our being less tech savvy than our children, there have been additional missteps. We continued to wait until middle school to grant cell phone privileges, but did not foresee the lure of texting. We first learned that our middle schooler was "going out" with a girl when his cell phone stopped working. He had racked up $450 in texting fees by sending her 1,552 texts in two weeks. Since that episode, all middle schoolers' phones are left to charge on my desk, with my having the option of periodically scanning the contents. We also changed our texting plan.

While in high school, one of our younger kids posted a mildly offensive comment on Facebook. Prior to letting him have a Facebook page, we had not confirmed that he really understood that all 400+ of his "friends" (including his grandmother in the Middle East) would see the comment, not just the few close friends he thought would find the immature humor funny. Our high schooler also has snap chat, despite the fact that it seems to offer infinite possibilities for bad choices.

These lapses in oversight did give us the opportunity to discuss the most important thing we think kids need to know about technology. The Internet is a "permanent record" of everything you write or read, and every picture anyone posts of you. This "permanent record" exists forever, and can be seen by everyone in the world you know, and everyone else, too.

We live in an area with an infinite number of enriching and fun activities, and we enjoy gorgeous weather year round. We try to find other ways to entertain ourselves and reserve technology for work, study and social scheduling. Some days we have more success at this than others. We have a "no cell phone" policy at dinner, but actually it is my husband and I who are the worst offenders, especially if he is in the middle of a really exciting iphone chess game or I desperately need to check Wikipedia to win an argument.