LOCAL WRITER AND mother of two Leslie Hsu Oh regularly blogs for KidsTheseDays.org at Love + eMotion. This is her first entry, also recorded for the radio. Below is the extended (not edited-for-radio) version.
Raising Techno Addicts
The other day, I drove home slower than usual. An enormous box weighed down my passenger seat. In the back, our five-year-old daughter, Kyra, and two-year-old son, Ethan, chanted, “Computer. Computer. Computer.”
I was nervous and relieved about bringing it home. My husband and I were tired of putting our kids in timeout for spilling liquids on our laptops. Or, even sneakier, hiding in the bathroom, claiming that they were peeing, when they were actually reorganizing the apps on our iPhones!
On the weekends, Kyra would tiptoe out of bed while we were sleeping and browse the Internet. And when we put a stop to that, one morning, we laid awake in bed listening to the giggles of our two troublemakers manipulating our complicated home theatre system. We heard them start their Thomas the Train DVD, then switch to Sesame Street recorded with our DVR, and finally when they were bored with all that, play their favorite Wii Lightning McQueen racing game!
In the car, Ethan started to kick my seat and Kyra asked, “MaMa, MaMa. Can I have phone?” “Mommee, phone?” Ethan added. Simultaneously in stereo sound, Kyra belted out “Mommy. Mommy. Mommee. Mommee. Mommee. Mommy. Mommy. Mommee…” while Ethan sang “Daddy. Daddy. Daddee. Daddee. Daddee. Daddy. Daddy. Daddee…”
For a few moments of peace, I almost did hand over my iPhone. Lots of parents surrender their phones to their kids to calm them down. Some argue that the iPhone is educational. Many children, including my own, learned their first word from apps like “Peekaboo Barn.” Others warn that these gadgets limit a child’s interaction with the world.
Last week, my husband came home from an ice cream date with our kids and said, “You’ll never believe what Ethan did.” He showed me his Facebook wall, where seven precise posts were made. My husband’s name in bold blue print followed by the letter “r” or “u,” sometimes multiple r’s and u’s, and so on until the final post was a letter “r” followed by a space, then the letter “u.” “Wow,” I said trying to make my husband feel better. “Our two-year-old has figured out text messaging lingo. Not bad.” My husband said, “So embarrassing. I didn’t even know I had an app on my Blackberry for updating my Facebook status.”
So what if several hundred friends received those messages, at least it’s not as bad as what Kyra did last summer. Barely four years old, she had found my iPhone charging on my desk and in a few minutes managed to break my passcode security and send 100 text messages. And that’s not as bad as other stories we’ve seen or heard from our friends: a brand-new HD camcorder dunked in the toilet or the police showing up at your doorstep because your kid dialed 911 or worrying about getting fired when your kid sent a company-wide email.
I started to panic. Maybe it was all our fault? I’ll admit it, my husband and I are Techno Addicts. We are “always on,” it seems, through instant messaging, mobile phones, social network sites, online shopping. And our kids are just emulating our behavior. We might’ve even encouraged their use of technology, thinking that this was good training for their technical and media literacy.
Pulling my Bluetooth headset out of my ear, I floored the gas pedal and hurried home. Frost had crystallized the plants along the side of the road and the tires felt slick. This fall, Kyra started Kindergarten and I knew that we needed to pay attention to the digital road that my kids would be cruising. When she was two and we caught her browsing the Disney store for her favorite Lightning McQueen toys, it was easy then to laugh about it and joke that at least she didn’t know how to type or use a credit card. Soon, the Internet would become her backyard. I couldn’t ignore anymore the reports that youth and young adults spend nearly twice as much time as their parents think they spend online. I had to get savvy about the dangers of my kids being “always on.” And recognize that new media has altered how youth socialize and learn.
Technology defines this generation even more than our own and I should start as early as I could to teach them how to navigate it safely.
I parked the car in the garage as Kyra and Ethan’s voices rose into a war cry: “Computer! Computer! Computer!” Unstrapping them from their car seats, I ushered them out onto our gravel driveway. “MaMa, can I have my computer?” Kyra asked. I zipped their jackets and tightened their hoods and responded, “Oh Sweetie, can you hear the river running? Soon, it will freeze over.” “Mommee phone,” Ethan demanded. “Maybe after we walk to the river, okay?” Holding tightly to their little hands, we started running down the driveway, leaving their (digital) BFFs behind.
This story was originally featured on Show 9: Modern Families and The Digital Age.