Szyperski: iKid because I loveWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | firstname.lastname@example.org
My son, Jack, turned 9 years old this month. After three Thomas the Tank Engine parties, two Ben 10 parties and his latest ongoing preference for soccer-themed parties, I’ve learned to accept that he is the simple, easy-to-please type in many ways. He requests only one or two specific gifts for his birthday and would honestly be content to receive those and nothing else.
To match the fact that he is growing into a young man right before my eyes, Jack’s only birthday request this year was the infamous iPod Touch. I don’t think he formally asked for it, but it was the only thing he had consistently expressed an interest in. Yet, I remembered how absurd it seemed when one of my daughter’s classmates showed up with one at preschool, so I couldn’t help but question at what age it loses its absurdity. Dare I attempt to procure one for a child not yet in the double digits?
With some hesitation, I decided to put Operation iPod Touch into effect by suggesting cash contributions when the annual onslaught of “What does Jack want for his birthday?” inquiries began rolling in. My thought was that Jack could have a nice start to an iPod fund, earn the rest over the next few months and then learn how gratifying it is to finally obtain something you have saved up for. However, I underestimated just how much he rakes in from our large and generous family on such an occasion, so he already had more than enough in his fund by the end of his birthday dinner.
I was happy to finally have an answer as to how our house is filled to the brim with kid items when we swore off buying anything other than birthday and holiday gifts before our kids were even born (i.e., $200-$300 worth of presents per birthday adds up quickly with three kids). Still, questions remained about whether such a device for a 9-year-old was indeed the right move. My tech-intrigued self sees little issue with inviting young ones into cyber life, but I struggle to firm up the boundaries for what is now socially acceptable.
We are in a strange era of vast and varied opinions regarding children and technology. The spectrum of debaters ranges from those who existed long before modern technology to those who have never known existence without it. I can only imagine how those who can barely remember life without apps and texting must view those who discourage such things or shun them all together. My guess is that it is in the same way past generations viewed individuals who chose to reject electricity or telephones or automobiles.
While I comprehend the potential dangers associated with limitless connectivity, I have also gained a deep appreciation for it. Personally, I love it. More importantly, however, I realize that my children are going to live their entire lives immersed in it.
As I considered what was technologically appropriate for my family, I began to recall the barrage of stranger danger instruction I received throughout my childhood. Between school, society and the working of it into every other sitcom plot, my fellow children of the 1980s and I were collectively convinced that it was not a matter of if but of when and where each of us would be systematically assaulted and/or abducted by a stranger. It just seemed inevitable.
After years of undue concern, I was intrigued by more recent and more substantive evidence that the best defense against stranger danger might just be more frequent interaction with strangers. From what I understand, it has been discovered that children who are exposed to a greater variety of people are more likely to gain a sense of whom they should trust and whom they should stay away from. In short, practice and familiarity seem to breed a keen awareness and an ability to discern. Well, what do you know?
I can’t help but think that sheltering my children too much from the truly inevitable, a technological life, may end up doing more harm than good. As the rest of us fumble through Facebook and other facts of life that didn’t exist five or 10 years ago, our children have the distinct advantage of learning the ins, the outs, the positives and the pitfalls at an early age. Teaching them the importance of taking responsibility for their cyber lives while we still have the strongest voice in their little worlds seems like the most logical way to breed their awareness and discernment for years to come.
Shannon and her husband, Michael, are raising three children in Sylvania. E-mail her at email@example.com.