Monday, March 17, 2014

Parenting in the Digital Age...

Several times through the last few years I've made comment that I wish I could turn back time so that I could parent in a time BEFORE digital access and devices were a part of everyday life. Parenting is hard on it's own. Trying to figure out how to help your kids safely and successfully navigate all that comes with online social media, texting, photo sharing, and access to just about anything on the inter-webs, feel impossible at times.

Scott and I have approached our girls' exposure to all things digital pretty conservatively over the years. We're online, obviously, and as the generation who welcomed this form of connection and communication into our lives in early adulthood, I often feel like we are still trying to figure out a good balance ourselves. We've allowed our girls access, but with some control and restrictions. Much to her dismay, our 12 year old does not have her own cell phone. Even though she used her own monies to purchase an iPod touch at the holidays, she understands ultimately we have the final say on what accounts she can set up and when she's expected to set her device aside and unplug.

Privacy. Safety. A clean digital footprint. Learning to balance the need for unplugged activities in a time when everyone, everywhere seems to always be connected. All reasons we've tried to come up with some reasonable restrictions. Admittedly, there's always been a little bit of fear of what bad COULD happen that has, at least on my part, guided those decisions. As a mom, protecting my girls with the force of a mother bear comes naturally. Letting them venture out to learn by trial and error on their own is a little harder to practice. I've sometimes forgotten that much awesomeness is also possible when you allow kids to connect and share in the ways of their generation.

This weekend, to kick off our 10 day spring break, the girls and I took a quick trip to Omaha to meet up with a good friend of mine from college, and her daughters, who we've not seen in about 5 years. (Which is ridiculous, quite honestly.) We spent an afternoon in the warmth of the jungle, aquarium, and desert at the zoo. The girls swam at the hotel while Sara and I talked, and talked, and talked. We'd probably still be talking if it weren't for the fact our time to be together simply ran out. It was fantastic. Saturday afternoon, after Sara and her girls headed west, the girls and I decided to stop at Joslyn Art Museum before we headed back east. We'd not been to Joslyn before, but so much enjoyed our visit to Nelson-Atkins in KC a few summers ago that we were pretty sure we'd enjoy Joslyn too.

Coincidentally, another college friend of mine, Jen, and her daughters, who we do get together with often, also spent some time in Omaha over the weekend to celebrate their spring break. We didn't get together with them on this trip. Our oldest girls, who have gone to summer camp together for the past 4 years, have started texting regularly since they both have iDevices. It was as we were walking through Joslyn that Lexi shared that Maddie had been to Joslyn that weekend too, and had shared some of the photos of her favorite pieces of art with her through an iCloud album. As we walked around Lexi was keeping an eye out for those pieces, and snapping pics of the pieces she was drawn to to share in return. Throughout the weekend those photos have been shared and commented on, not only between Lexi and Maddie, but their other friends as well. No matter how you look at it, it's 12 year old girls interacting with, and over, fine art, and I happen to think it's pretty cool.

Am I still freaked out and frustrated by all that comes with navigating parenting in the digital age? Oh hell yes! Having been involved in discussions about this very subject both as a parent, and as extension of my work at the school, I can say there are lots of opinions and no clear answers on how to keep moving forward. That being said, I'm starting to relax a bit knowing that with all the bad that COULD happen, a lot of good DOES happen when kids connect online.

~ peace ~