5 Years of ‘Digital Parenting’

Part One: Stock Take

Rosie and I now have had more than five years’ worth of experience raising children in a house full of technology, so I thought it’s about time to review our approaches and think about whether things have worked out or not.

As I have mentioned before, we very quickly realised the magical influence that touch-screened gadgets exert over young children, but we also recognised what a great motivational opportunity this represents. I think we both saw this fascination as a way of engaging kids in interesting things, rather than as a dangerous attraction that should be suppressed.

We therefore agreed on some basic principles, and I’m going to list them here and then review them with examples in individual follow-up posts over the next week or so..

  1. We don’t want touch screens to have a privileged position. We want the kids to treat it no differently to paper — just a medium with which to make something or see something. Not a treat that is used coercively as a bargaining chip, or something that is so dangerous that we prevent them from using it too much. Which means that…
  2. We would not limit the amount of time the kids spent using screens, just because they are screens. We may well tell them to get off the sofa and do something different because they have spent too long idle, or because it’s sunny outside, but not because they are using screens. Our attitude towards them being engaged in screen-use is no different to television or books or drawing, or anything else for that matter.
  3. It’s the content that is important, not the screen. Which means you need to know what your kids are doing on the devices and be involved in it. There are lots of ways to do this, which I will go into in another post, and I think it’s also important to establish yourself as the introducer of amazing and exciting new things and find them great new content regularly.
  4. Devices, and tablets especially, are tools for creation at least as much as they are for exploration, discovery and problem solving. This is about curating new content and encouraging kids to make things.
  5. Games are made by people, and you can be one of them too. They are not created by ultra-smart and aloof grown ups, or by big faceless companies, or magically summoned into existence by app fairies. They are made by normal people, just like us, who like fun and making things, and if you like a game they made they’d probably quite like to hear about it.
  6. Games cost money and bad games keep asking for more money. This is a tough concept to get across, and perhaps less important now than it was a few years ago (although probably not — it’s just marginally easier to find games with better business models. Marginally.)
  7. Do not give them your passwords what ever you do. They are incredibly sneaky. They watch you like hawks. You have to fool them by entering wrong characters and then deleting them to put them off the scent.

As I said, I’m going to dig into each of these principles in more detail in subsequent posts, and consider to what extent we’ve succeeded in the approach we took. Of course, we have no definitive way of knowing whether our approach is the right one, or the best one, or whether we have done some kind of lasting damage to our children by exposing them to this much exciting stuff so early in their lives. We are also in the very privileged position of having access to many devices in our home, and sufficient income to buy new games pretty much at will, so we have mostly avoided issues of device ownership, pleading for new games, etc. (although I probably should write a post about how Lucas saved up all his pocket money for an entire year to buy a Playstation Vita, just so he could complete the last few tutorials on Little Big Planet 2…)

What I can say for sure though, is that we’ve taken our responsibly seriously and both of us have worked very hard to give our boys great experiences in everything they do, including the things they get up to on our phones, tablets and games consoles.

And really, for us that’s what it comes down to most of all.

(First published at appyfamilies.net)