At this point I am not sure which of my other mini-reprobates left the iPad on the floor for the baby to claim as a major ground score. I walk casually into the living room, scoop up baby and said iPad and go sit in the heart of the family room with both. This is where the wheels of my plan came flying off. I try to help. I unlock the iPad and begin to access the baby’s favorite touch activated visual app, Tesla Toy. The baby screams and flails about in his “What the hell are you doing ruining my fun?!! What? Do I look like a baby who needs help with everything?” I try once again to appease him, he continues to scream and flail, I remove the iPad from his meaty paws and put it on a high shelf, ten years out of his reach. Lose-lose for all parties involved.
In this day and age, as parents, we are raising digital children who have no concept of the last fifty years of technological advancements. Tech history means nothing to them. It all exists now and it exists to amuse and entertain them. When our iPad came into our house, for my birthday last year, my kids were all like, “It’s about time, we’ve been waiting forever to get one of these!” I was like, “Yeah? Me too! Try waiting 42 years for someone to invent something this cool!” To them the iPad always existed since to them it is just an enlarged iPod touch. To them TVs have always been large and flat, DVDs have always been blue ray, and movies were always portable on an iPod. They can’t conceive of a world where on demand didn’t exist or when children existed for the sole purpose of changing the channels for dad (in order to peruse all three of said channels).
In this digital and media-centric age adult television programming and children's programming exist simultaneously. Before cable television there was children’s programming on TV at certain hours of the day followed by the news, prime time and then adult programming. Today, children’s programming is available from the moment they wake up to the moment we force them to go to bed. And it isn’t just in one format anymore. Now kids can be stimulated by media on an iPod, iPad, iPhone, television, computer, Wii, xBox 360, PS3, DSi 3D, Kindle Fire, other mobile phones or any other tablet. They can access thousands of kid videos on Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, and on Demand beyond the kid friendly DVD collection most parents have on hand. If you don’t already own it and can’t stream it instantly you can own it immediately via iTunes or Amazon instant downloads.
We no longer live in a world where we see something once on TV or at the movies and move on to the next distraction. Now we live in a world where we can access almost everything and our kids are fully aware of how much the world caters to them. We are parenting in a world of digital instant gratification. My six year old can turn on the television, switch to the appropriate Xbox input, turn the Xbox 360 on with the controller, find Netflix, find an age appropriate show and hit play.
Parenting in today’s digital world presents us with the great difficulty of controlling the digital life of our children. We must teach them the beauty of digital moderation while instilling in them a love of reading and learning. As parents we must create a vibrant world in real time to prevent the loss of our children’s minds to virtual worlds and challenges the real world cannot compete with on such a large scale. In the digital world a child can always find colorful worlds and planets to explore. In the real world we can’t always be hiking in the Grand Canyon or white water rafting down the Colorado River. In the digital world you can play in the NFL, NHL or NBA every day. In the real world we can watch the dream of playing professional sports live or on TV while so few achieve the dream. We used to read fairytales to children before bed time and the difference between stories and the real world was tangible. Now fairytales and dream worlds come alive on our televisions, computers or handheld devices any time we choose. Children and adults conscientiously choose whether to stay in real time or enter the digital dreamscapes of World of Warcraft, Modern Warfare 3, Pokemon, Assassin’s Creed or any number of digital realms worth exploring.
Parents and grandparents today watched and built the digital realm surrounding us. We see the potential for both greatness and trouble in raising children as digital natives. While it is too late to turn the magical metal, silicon and glass genies back into sand and ore it is never too late to teach our children human values. As parents we always hope that we will keep our children’s feet grounded in the real world while allowing them enough freedom for their heads to explore the dream space of the digital worlds in the cloud.