My husband calls himself a geek. I guess that makes me Mrs. Geek. He is a computer programmer, and I am a self taught computer and gadget junkie. Together we ride the wave of electronics, internet and social media samplings, each more enticing than the next. In our spare time we instant message each other from across the room. On date night we go to the book store. With our computers. Romantic, no? He gets up to browse the programming section while I, glued to Facebook or a blog writing project, cozy up to my wireless mouse. We understand each other.
Why then, were we shocked to see our toddlers, all three of them, figuring out how to access YouTube, Angry Birds, Pandora and more - on the phone, the iPad and the computer.
At first we were so proud.
"Look at that!" we exclaimed, as our two year old easily navigated the on/off button of the iPad.
"Ohhh, how cute is she!" we remarked, as our other two year old found her way into YouTube and shrieked with excitement at a ladybug video.
It seemed harmless. We were amazed and choked up when our third two year old, who has Cerebral Palsy and motor development issues, was confidently able to navigate through several layers of an educational flash card program. We were overjoyed at his physical ability, and immediately proclaimed the iPad as a turning point for therapeutic use. My husband got to work writing applications to support our son's needs and we were very excited.
Then we came back to Earth and realized, if a child who had a major stroke and has motor delays and perhaps other delays can so easily access this and other devices, what dangers lie in wait? It's thrilling to see that our children can so easily learn how to use things that will, we believe, enhance their learning and life experiences. The untapped potential is overwhelming to think about. But so are the commensurate dangers that lurk. Our 14 year old is joined at the fingertips to his phone and friends. We require his public use of the phone and computer, and routinely ask him specific questions about with whom and what he discusses. He knows we can and will step in at any time. We didn't have cell phones or computers when we were 14. Kindergartners now have computer lessons. What will the digital age be like when our toddlers are in high school? As with any other parenting approach, we believe that being too harsh can backfire, but being too soft is and saying 'do as I say and not as I do', is not an effective strategy. So as easily as we allow them to learn and explore, we also monitor and guide their access. Kids model what they see. If they see us on the computer a lot, they need to also see us behaving appropriately. Our teenager is on the hunt for life. More curiosity will follow with the little ones. Despite encryption and other 'safeguards', the digital world has a great deal of uncertainty with how information is handled and will be handled in the future. Learning how to manage this at home FIRST is the most powerful tool a child can have in their arsenal as they enter any world beyond their front door.