Friday, February 10, 2012

"Why does the baby have the iPad?"

Not the words I expect to hear at seven in the morning. You would think I would be tearing into the family room at breakneck speed to reclaim my technological marvel and you would be wrong. My one year old son has a profound respect for all things technological. As a digital native he already knows how to press the button to activate any iPad or iPod. He doesn’t know how to unlock the screen once he has activated it, but for now pressing the button amuses him to no end.

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.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A response to Aimless: Teach Your Children Well

My good friend, Amy Kite, is an amazing writer. She writes a wonderful blog about living and parenting called Aimless.

Below is a link to her post "Teach your children well," and my response, a few thoughts on modern relationships and the shape we find them in today.

It is my firm belief that the paradigm for relationships is broken. Unhappiness, on a large scale, is the bane of any life. Unhappiness exists in many key moments that shape our lives, but as a whole, we often stay too long stuck in relationships we don't know how to get out of. As adults, many of us critique our every mistake and evaluate our every decision harshly. When spouses critique each other's every mistake, and harshly evaluate each other's every decision it is a recipe for disaster.

 We are the creators of our lives, of our happiness, of the dreams and visions we wish to make real. There are happy adults and sad adults, happy children and sad children. There is very little proof that adults living unhappily forever after can raise happy kids. Sometimes happy adults living happily ever after can't raise happy kids. Each relationship and each interaction has to be met by each individual. Adults must teach themselves how to be happy before they ever have a chance of trying to teach their kids how to be happy. Even then we may all end up on a therapist's couch one day or another. We also have to show our kids that they are responsible for being happy about themselves and their lives. I have a six year old who in my eyes has the greatest life in the world with everything he could ask for (except his own room) and he can only complain that his cup is half empty instead of half full. I can't make him be happy, but I hope some day I can open his eyes to the fullness of his life.

I truly believe that the paradigm of relationships is broken and has been for a very long time. There is a huge break down in communication that we see on an intimate, local and global level each day of our lives. Only adults who understand what an actualized relationship is can communicate their needs and begin to make themselves happy in order to allow a similarly happy person to share their life with them. Too often we are not taught how to have healthy relationships. Often we aren't even taught how to have healthy familial relationships let alone adult relationships with healthy, honest, open communication.

I've been married and divorced (three years, no kids - whole different ball game). Two years after my divorce, I married the wonderful woman I've called my wife for the last twelve years (Happy Anniversary honey!). When I got divorced there was no one there to tell me that a divorce without kids is just a healthy break up that costs more. In my eyes it was a relationship that ran its course and we needed our freedom to find true contentment and true companionship in our lives. I had no adult role models who were there to tell me this at the time to assist in helping me feel less like a failure and less like a complete idiot.

My freedom gave me the chance to find a partner who understood me and shared all of my core values. Have the last twelve years been smooth sailing? No! We are human. Some days are great, some good, some not so good, some bloody awful. It is what it is. No one needs to tell you that every day isn't a fairytale, but we often wish it was just some great fairy tail. But it isn't. Finding contentment in ourselves and our lives is the beginning of the path. It should lead us to the knowledge necessary to create healthy and communicative relationships that we are happy to be part of. As parents it is paramount that we teach our children how much we love them as much as we need to teach them that our love doesn't end when mom and dad change their "I dos" to "I don'ts."

The relationship paradigm is broken. Only we can fix it by building a modern model that works for us individually. Person A meets Person B (it isn't just boy meets girl anymore, and really I am not sure it EVER was just boy meets girl). They talk about their likes, dislikes, core values, belief systems and dreams. They agree to build a life together. It will be filled with laughter, tears, smiles, frowns, good times and bad. If they can continue this conversation honestly for the rest of their lives they just may be able to build the perfect system that allows them to live happily ever after.