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August 18, 2011

Are You in a Parenting Tech Trap?


MOMMY, IT’S DOWNYOADING, Drew says, looking up at me from the glowing computer screen.

He was trying to play a Dora The Explorer computer game, but he might as well have been hacking the White House mainframe in a tight black t-shirt. I don’t know what to make of the fact that he knows what “downloading” is even before he can say his “Ls.”

My first piece of technology was my dad’s record player. I commandeered it for purposes of Psalty indoctrination and because I liked balancing the needle. The vinyl smelled warm and somehow vital within my six-year-old hands — I wanted to hear the clean shwishhh of it sliding in the vellum even more than the songs themselves. Technology, for me, has always been more about the tactile experience of it, the hardware rather than the software. Color, texture, smell — they’re are all better when combined into a single useful tool, or combined to LOOK like a useful tool, like this $300 vintage bicycle you can get from Pottery Barn and put in your entryway to confuse every child who ever visits your house.

So while I’ve always cared more about designer covers than 3G capabilities and screen savers more than Intel processors, I’m afraid I have relied too much on the cold, hard technology of phones, TVs and computers in my everyday parenting. Even now as I type, Drew is watching Toy Story in the living room, which I would LIKE to say is because it’s 110 degrees outside, but it’s really because I was too tired this morning to deal with him jumping up and down in Madeline’s crib. And sometimes it does you emotional good to hear phrases like “You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity” from the living room.

This week Drew also discovered computer games and I tell myself these are educational. The one he loves the most? The yiddle hedicopter. YET’S PWAY THE YIDDLE HEDICOPTER, MOMMY, he says. (Translation: Let’s play the Little Helicopter, Servant-woman.)

Although it’s questionable if he even knows the game’s objective, the element he cares about is an animated helicopter that mysteriously appears and disappears from the screen, depending on your computer’s battery life and how much you are willing to put up with the background music. I hear Drew whining in the study and tell him if he can’t handle figuring the game out on his own, we’ll be turning the computer off. I’m understanding and willing to help, obviously. This bodes well for my future in homework coaching.

The game he DIDN’T have a problem understanding from the get-go was ANGWY BIWDS. (Angry Birds). Gordon and I discovered a while back was that if you give a whining kid an iPhone, you can take them to a steak dinner in a china shop surrounded by tumblers of cherry Kool Aid and Taliban guerillas and not worry for a minute about him flinching. It’s a dangerously easy crutch.

“We’re getting Drew an iTouch for his birthday,” said Gordon at a family gathering recently when we were with my parents and siblings.

“Ugh, that’s SO FORT WORTH,” said my brother, which made my knee-jerk reaction immediately: “No, it’s SO DALLAS.” If we’re going to admit to snobbery and bad parenting, we might as well pin it on that loathsome metropolis east on I-30. But I’m not. Admitting to snobbery, that is.

The Scripture says, Don’t judge lest ye be judged. But when is enough technology enough?


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