There’s no use denying it. Your kids’ childhood is going to be much more digital and connected than the one you may have had. And while, with reasonable caution, many in my generation hesitate and try to deny their children screen time, there is a voice that offers a counterpoint to the nervous parents bemoaning the glow of the screen they see daily in their youngsters faces…
His name is Jordan Shapiro and I’ll get to his book, which I’m recommending you read, in a second.
But first, let me be upfront. I also limit my daughters’ screen time. I feel it’s a responsible and necessary thing to do to help them become well-rounded humans that don’t solely live in a digital reality. It’s with an inherent hesitation that I have accepted that their time on their phones or iPads might be beneficial for them (and not just when they’re doing homework or watching educational videos.)
This built-in resistance comes from my own childhood where my parents showed me the door and told me to come back when the streetlights came on. Fresh air. Exercise. Social interaction of the face to face variety. That was the logic behind my banishment from staying inside and “glued to the tube.”
The difference these days? The “tube” is mobile. Extremely mobile. It fits in your hand and has virtually become an appendage to most of us. And rather than fight what appears to be inevitable, Shapiro’s book flips the script and embraces how to use this technology to better raise kids in a connected world.
There was a telling moment in my house recently. My oldest daughter Grace had discovered Minecraft. (Yes, we know… late to the party.) But like I do with most things she’s interested in, I decided to check it out for myself. I had no idea what to expect. What I discovered was basic…and wonderful. You could create anything.
So I began work on recreating our house, block by block, in Minecraft. Each bedroom, bathroom, playroom…even the flower garden and tile patio out back… it’s all there. Each digital tree in the yard right where the real life trees stood. Her reaction was epic. She loved it. Then, I discovered that we could both “live and play” in the world that I had created through a LAN. This was bliss. No ads. No worry about predators. Just her and I in our “house” making alterations, hidden lofts, and collecting items to upgrade our gear.
But the absolute best part was when it was my turn to put her younger sister to bed. Grace was disappointed that we wouldn’t be playing together. But Daphne, her sister, wanted to watch me find sheep and shear them in Minecraft while she lay in her bed. So Grace and I were able to play even though in separate rooms… while Daphne started to drift off. And while we could text each other within the game, we didn’t. It was too cumbersome and there was no need. Even though we weren’t “speaking” to each other, we were in complete synchronicity. Each task that I went to do, she was there as a silent partner, knowing exactly how to lend a hand (or pickaxe) and vice versa. There was a strange connection here. We were on the same page. I was surprised. It was really an unexpected connection we were sharing.
It’s become a big part of our conversations these past two months and she’s even joined a club at her school to learn more about what she can do in Minecraft.
Fast forward to last week when I attended the Dad 2.0 Summit in San Antonio. That’s where I met Mr. Shapiro and got a copy of his book “The New Childhood.” I’ve barely scratched the surface of the book and am already impressed with the level of research he’s put into it. He breaks this new digital childhood we’re witnessing into four categories: self, home, school, and society. If you’re looking for a good read, here’s the link. (No kickbacks here. I’m not a paid sponsor. It’s just good reading.)
And while I still have my protector hat on and still monitor her access, I’m much more comfortable with her screen time. If you’re worried about what your kids are seeing on the Internet or through messaging apps, I’ll be blogging about bark.us in an upcoming post. That’s another tool you’re going to want to know about.
Until then, I’ve got some sheep to shear and a secret rooftop garden to plant for my daughters.