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Raising children in the digital age

Last week, I had a drive of several hours and listened to a technology podcast streaming on my iPhone. It was refreshing to hear two dads wondering about screen time for their kids. My wife and I have that conundrum now.

When my son started first grade last year, we had laid down the law. No iPad usage or video games during the school week would be allowed. He came home the first Friday, came into my office with a look of dread on his face and said, “Dad, you can’t blame me. It is not my fault. She made me do it.” “Who made you do what?” I asked. “My teacher. She made me look at screens,” he said exasperated. He had his first taste of computer class. All I could do was laugh and tell him it was OK. Within a few weeks, neither my wife nor I were much into being regulators and the kids were spending limited time with iPads.

But what is too much? My daughter is wedded to a Kindle. She reads books constantly. When she is on an iPad or computer, she is playing creative games. The boy is building structures in Minecraft and figuring out puzzles. What a different world we live in.

Growing up in Dubai, my school had computer class starting in first grade in 1981. By fourth grade we were learning typing on computers and logo computer programming. I left Dubai in 1990 the only kid in my school without a computer and moved to rural Louisiana where I soon became the only kid in the school with a computer.

My first computer had 8 megabytes of ram and 60Mhz processor. It was top of the line. My iPhone is a faster, better computer now than that computer and my iPhone fits in my pocket. My kids are already figuring out iPads and computers and things none of us could dream of as kids.

That all raises questions, though, about regulating the time spent on these devices. My parents never did. I stayed in the computer lab at school almost every day doing homework and playing games with friends. At home, my room was also the TV room. I would not say my parents were neglectful, but I was certainly a free range kid. We lived in a perfectly safe, non-gated community in Dubai and it was not unheard of for the neighborhood kids to be roaming the streets well after midnight on weekends. We had to play at night because the desert was too hot during the day.

My kids play with their friends across the Internet. They connect via iPads or the Xbox. They may not be playing whiffle ball in the vacant lot, but they are still playing and interacting with friends and collaborating and learning team work. Is it the same, though? Part of me thinks it is not. Part of me thinks it is just a different age.

When Christy and I were first married, people gave us books on raising children. Advice books from James Dobson and the like began to fill our bookshelf. But I think everyone finally learns there is no manual, just hands on, learn as you go experience. Hands on, I suppose, is key. Being a part of your kid’s life, but not smothering your child, may be the best way to go. I do suspect, however, that it is going to get even harder to raise kids as this digital age of ours progresses. It makes me worry.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.

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