How do you raise a smart & safe tech-savvy child? (Answer not included.)

they don't make 'em like this anymore

I am not a technologist.  I just bought my third mobile phone, a bottom-of-the-line Samsung. (I have been mobile free since 2005, and I only had one from 2003 to 2005 because Peace Corps was piloting a new safety and security program using mobile phones when I was a Volunteer.)  My wife and I got a text message the other day and neither one of us could figure out how to respond using a numeric answer, so instead we spelled out the time we wanted the babysitter to come.  But, I do have an Ipad; it was our Christmas gift to ourselves this past year.  We decided to put a few games on it for my soon to be three year old son as well as some Curious George episodes for all of the plane rides we take.  Sad to say, within two months my son had nearly the same skills at interfacing with this machine as I did.

With the birth of my first son, I finally decided to join the masses on facebook.  I did this so that I would be able to better communicate with friends and especially family.  Now that I had a child, I felt a need to keep my own parents and in-laws more connected to the development of their grandson.  459 “friends” later, I don’t even know who I have given access to all of those cute baby and family photos as well as all of those humorous and revealing 140 character length messages I feel compelled to write.

With my son’s burgeoning Ipad skills, the numerous articles and stories about the merits and horrors of technology & children, and my own mystification with the internet and all sorts of technology; I keep needing to assess what exactly it is I should be doing to foster a healthy, well-adjusted adult, out of my toddler.  To help guide me, I read Wired Magazine, as well as Scientific America on occasion.  While perhaps not the most parenting oriented magazines, they both often run articles that address this very topic.  One story has particularly pricked my imagination.  (I apologize, I do not remember the name of the article, who wrote it, or from which source it came from.  I am pretty good at remembering details of a story, just not the citation.)

Nicholas Carr has written a book, ‘The Shallows’, where he argues that constant use of the Internet will change how your brain is structured.  True, as to any activity you do repeatedly.  Now Carr argues that this is a bad thing and making humans dumber.  (Note:  I have not read the book, I am simply retelling what I have read from someone else who has read said book….perhaps Carr does have a good argument.)  Please read John Harris’ Guardian article, ‘How the internet is altering your mind’, for a decent appraisal of the book and the argument.  But, what I read at some point in some magazine was the argument that, “Yes, the Internet and technology is changing brain structures and behavioral patterns; but this is the next step in evolution.”  Similar to changes that must have taken place when humans decided to move away from their nomadic life-styles (obviously I missed that step in evolution) and begin to cultivate land, certain changes are now taking places that will allow humans to better function in a technology-based world.  (I believe the author even went on to suggest that ADD/ADHD were signs of this evolutionary process.)  The end point of this article was that if parents were to refrain from introducing technology to children, or from allowing them to use it, that they would be creating a tech skill/knowledge deficient adult who would then face many disadvantages in an increasingly technology-based society.

So, as a digital immigrant with pretty low marks in technology skill and knowledge, what am I supposed to do when raising my own sons?  Do I introduce as much technology as I can and help them develop into super techies for the future; or, will that simply make them dumber homo-sapiens that are no longer capable of deep thinking and reflective thought?  Obviously, taking a page out of Buddhism, there must be a middle-path.  But one of the fears that I have, is that my children will very quickly outpace my own skills and knowledge when it comes to the internet and technology, and that I will then be unable to be a good role-model for them in how to responsibly and safely use the internet.

Even the question of what is safe or not safe on the Internet is one that boggles my mind.  It seems that there is an alarming amount of warnings regarding how unsafe the Internet is.  Is anything private anymore?  Who are those 459 “friends” that look at and comment on my photos?  Who has access beyond them?  What is that I say, or write, about today that will come back and haunt my sons in 15 or 25 years time?  I honestly do not know.  So, in trying to be diligent about these fears, I will refrain from using my sons’ names, nor will I post pictures of them.  Additionally, perhaps its time to weed through those 459 strangers and narrow it down to a more limited list of friends and family; and too, it might be time to listen to my wife and delete old photos of K as a fetus from the internet.  Who needs that anyways?

While I wish I could offer you something more practical or informative regarding being a parent in this tech-savvy world, I really just don’t know.  But, perhaps if you were to view some of the links below from the Wired.com blog Geekdad, you might find some information more useful to you from more tech-savvy folks than I.

The first email address, raising an Internet savvy child

Safety obsession

If you have any tips or sites that you have found particularly useful in regards on how to raise a tech-savvy and safe child, please do share.

And thanks for reading.

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