Technology, Kids and the Evolution of the Conversation

Within one day of reading last Sunday’s New York Times editorial on how technology is creating a disconnected society void of conversation, a friend of mine told me she is buying her third grader a cell phone for his birthday. I also keep hearing that the cool kids in my son’s class are constantly on their iPads or iPods using phone apps and texting apps and Face Time. So in the world of third graders, my son is actually missing out on the conversation. And because he does not have his own phone or iPod or iPad, there is actually a new, very real and physical barrier to being cool.

Now, I am not the kind of mother who makes choices to try to get my sons in the cool crowd. The conversations are not necessarily ones I want him to be in on yet. I think third grade is too young to own things that cost that much, have unlimited access to friends, or have so much of their conversational life unsupervised.

But at the same time, those if us who are writing in the New York Times, conducting studies on how computers and video affect the brain, or just making decisions about what to allow our kids to access, are all of a generation that did not grow up with this level of technology already woven into the fabric of everyday life.

Technology is not going anywhere. The way the world converses is changing. It will continue to evolve faster than we can imagine…especially for those of us who were using an old IBM Selectric typewriter in college or still think “LOL” means “Lots Of Love” not “Laugh Out Loud”.

I keep reading about how bad this is for society. I keep getting mad at the parents of my kids’ friends when they buy their kids iPads and cell phones before I think it’s time. But that is not useful to anyone, especially my boys, who want to be part of the conversation. Will they be like the kids back in the 70s and 80s who grew up in homes without television? Considered a little out there, because they couldn’t participate in the conversation…. about shows like Dallas, Battlestar Galactica, Charlie’s Angels, and E.R.? Yes, the conversation was silly, but not being able to join in was more harmful in some ways than letting our brains rot. Right?

My guess is that most of us will fold earlier than we expect. We will feel guilty about it. We will make excuses to our friends. We will create rules that make us feel better about it. No technology after a certain time. No technology in bedrooms. Only a certain amount of time per day or only on weekends. We do it now with television or the Wii.

And when we take this leap before we are ready, we will do so that our children are part of the conversation…even if it’s not face-to-face, or using more words, or at all how we like to define it. We might even study this new evolving language they speak so we can get it on it too.

Like everyone, I want my children to be good souls with deep thoughts, kind hearts, great friends and a real love for life. I want them to live well and have fun. I do not want them to lose their personality or energy or creativity or friends because of video games or one-word texts. As a parent, I need to give them the tools to live good, healthy, happy lives. And technology is one of those tools, whether I like it or not.