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Graduation Reflections: My Kids' Lives Through Media
Sometimes it feels like I've been at this parenting thing forever. This week, my daughter, Foster, graduated from high school, while my youngest son, Noah, finished kindergarten. Lately, the two of them have been watching old episodes of Blue's Clues together. For her, it's a blast from the past with her favorite show as a toddler (she's still coming to terms with Bob replacing Steve as the host). For him, it's been fun discovering a new (to him) show built around an interactive clue-finding game.
As for me, I can't help but reflect on how much kids' media has changed since this year's high school seniors were babies. I won't burden you with the bittersweet emotions a dad feels when his little girl is about to leave the nest, but a little stroll down "media memory lane" seems like a good way to mark the transition.
TV Then and Now
- THEN: The agony of rewind. For Foster's toddler years, media was mostly watching musical videos for kids on VHS. She'd ask for her favorite songs over and over, and I remember asking her to be patient while I rewound or fast-forwarded the tape, often needing to stop and start a couple of times to find the right spot. We only kept a couple dozen videotapes and DVDs at home; bringing home a new title from the store or rental shop was a major event.
- NOW: An "on demand" childhood. Compare that to the instant gratification and limitless choices that Noah has today. We have dozens of kids' shows saved on the DVR, and they can be played in the time it used to take to eject a videotape from the machine. Thousands more kids' shows are ready to stream in Netflix's Just for Kids section, and there's a nearly infinite library of clips and shows on YouTube. He'll never know what it's like to have to wait to see anything.
Games Then and Now
- THEN: PCs, CD-ROMs, and mousing skills. My daughter and I played educational PC games together, mostly a series of CD-ROMs from Fisher-Price. We had to play them in the study, where the computer was, and she sat on my lap as I taught her the unintuitive skills of moving and clicking the mouse on the desk to get the pointer on the screen to do what she wanted. It was together time for us, and even after she could play on her own, her computer time was limited to when a) I wasn't busy using the family PC myself and b) someone was there to turn on the computer and load the games. We never had more than a handful of games.
- NOW: There's an app for that. Today, Noah plays on the iPad wherever and whenever we let him. He intuitively knew how to use a touchscreen almost immediately, and there's a massive number of games available to play almost instantly. My iTunes password is pretty much the only thing in his way. With so many to choose from, each game feels more disposable than the titles of my daughter's era. Plus, it's easier for him to get into an app with inappropriate content -- but it's easier for me to replace those with something better, too.
Cell Phones Then and Now
- THEN: Dumb phones. My daughter got her first cell phone when she started middle school. It was a chunky red flip phone that only had basic features. We had the quaint notion that she'd use it to call us if she needed anything after school. I remember teaching her how to send a text message and -- get this -- actually going over our monthly phone bill to see which phone numbers she was texting. By the end of that year, she was using 1,000 texts per month, and we as parents had learned to depend on texting as the primary way of staying in touch with our older kids when they were out and about.
- NOW: What can't a phone do? Noah obviously doesn't have a cell phone yet, but he's very comfortable playing with ours. Of course, today's smartphones are more than phones; they're cameras, game systems, and location tracking devices all in one. I don't know what else they'll be able to do by the time Noah is old enough for one, but I do know that teaching him to be responsible with it is going to be a much bigger job.
Besides enjoying a trip down memory lane, what do I make of all this? With instant access to all kinds of media at any time, through any device, it's more important than ever to teach appropriate media boundaries.
It used to be as easy as saying "no TV on school nights," but now we parents have to be far more engaged. Noah will have to learn to use good judgment about content and context much earlier than his sister did. And with millions of media choices out there, we all need to be more discerning about what's worth spending time on.
Thankfully, we've got great tools like Common Sense Media to help us sort through it all with reviews, ratings and recommendations. Yes, it takes a little more work for us parents, but being engaged with our kids' media can be a hugely rewarding part of parenting.
Congratulations to the class of 2013, and good luck to the class of 2025!