Monday, February 04, 2013

Tech Time

This one is for the parents out there.

What’s your philosophy on “technology time” for your kids?  

We have a few techie toys around the house that the kids enjoy using: a kindle fire, a nook running android, and an ipod touch.  (For those keeping score at home, all of those were bought used, and all work quite well.  I’m not sure why this option isn’t more popular.)  There’s also the family laptop on which TW and I do work, and the kids play Minecraft.

(For the uninitiated, Minecraft is a game in which kids build virtual buildings.  The Boy loves doing multilevel stadiums or castles.  I don’t even know if there’s a competitive component to it; he just loves building stuff.  Judging by its popularity at Lego League, Minecraft is the Space Invaders for this generation.)

Naturally, the kids love playing with tech more than they love, say, doing homework, practicing their instruments, or hanging their coats in the closet.  At their age, I would have been the same way.  

I’m a little bit torn.

Part of me agrees with treating tech as analogous to television: acceptable in small doses, but in large doses not leading anywhere good.  They aren’t programming or hacking; they’re just playing games.  As such, I’m fine with a little as play or stress relief, but I’d hate to see more worthy endeavors sacrificed to it.  So this approach suggests rationing tech time and treating it as a sort of reward for getting the necessary stuff done.  (TW is firmly in this camp.)  Call it the “spinach before dessert” approach.

But part of me sees comfort with tech as a key skill/habit in the coming years, and I don’t want to weigh my kids down with my own misgivings.  From what I’ve seen of the techies I’ve known, most of them spent what looked like unhealthy amounts of time at some point in childhood messing around with whatever tech they could get their hands on.  For many of them, games were the initial appeal, but soon they started going beyond what was presented.  A sort of excess became the foundation for later exploration and invention.

As the kids get older, we’ll have less control over this sort of thing, which is why I want us to get it right while our opinions still matter.  

Wise and worldly readers, have you found ways to encourage your kids to engage with the creative side of tech without too much time-suck from other things?  I want them to be comfortable with tech, but I don’t want to see them lose touch with everything else.  And I worry about presenting either homework or tech as spinach.