Kids Today!

The other day, as my daughter Rose told us a story about the polka-dotted flamingo she gave her imaginary sister, our 14-year-old houseguest shook his head and lamented, “Kids today!”

He’s been here for almost a week, and I’ve only seen the top of his head. His eyes are focused on his smart phone, where he lurks on gamer forums, looks up random tidbits on the web and worse, feels the need to share all of it with us.

“What would you do if the internet went down?” I asked him today.

“I didn’t have internet for a week at my house, remember? “ his grandmother offered.

“What did you do then?” I asked.

“I watched TV. Plus 3G was up the entire time.”

In six days, not one original thought has made it past his lips. Probably because not one original thought has made it through a synapse. If he has had an original thought, he’s quickly quashed it with ready-made media.

Kids today!

Is this typical of the next generation? I know they’re tech-obsessed, but are they all this tech-obsessed? I guess if they weren’t, they’d never have discovered texting and driving, right? I’d hate to write off a whole generation, but maybe it’s apt.

Our houseguest could be an extreme example. He’s never had any social skills. Last year he was more social, because he forgot his Game Boy charger, but everything out of his mouth was either about a video game, a racial slur or this annoying fake laugh that he developed and perfected during his visit. At least the laugh was original.

But what if all kids are like him now? If they are, we’re looking at an economic nightmare in ten years, when they enter the workforce and companies depend on them for fresh ideas. Fortunately, we still have kids like Rose, who use their imagination. Our job as parents is to nurture it.

“They’re not getting a data plan,” my husband said of our toddler and infant last night. “Their phones will be for emergencies only.” I’m sure that in practice they’ll talk us into giving them a text plan, but in theory I have to agree with my husband.

But it’s not the devices that are evil. It’s the way they’re used. My high school physics teacher once asked us if science was good or evil. My class concluded that it depends how you use it. Media is the same way. We have to teach our kids to handle it.

I’ve compromised a lot of my principles with my kids. They drink juice. When I direct them, I sometimes close with, “Okay?” Rose has a coven of Barbies. But from what I’ve seen with our houseguest, I’ve got to stand firm on limiting media.

I’ve already lost the first battle. I said that my kids would never play video games. Then I married a gamer. Rose plays Wii and the other day she was so cute singing with Rock Band that I didn’t really mind. But she and her father play video games maybe once a month. I have more of a problem with her infatuation with Disney princesses.

Both kids definitely watch more TV than the recommended daily allowance, but they only watch kid TV about an hour a day, then the programming is ours and they don’t pay much attention. Sometimes I let Rose watch extra “Dora the Explorer” episodes, either after a nap or because I need more computer time. But as annoying as Dora is, the loud little Latina is teaching my daughter Spanish, so I let her slide. I rationalize it further knowing that I watched a lot of TV, and I always had great grades and original thoughts.

The rest of our screen time is what we have to work on. Rose has multiple pretend cell phones, and a Barbie laptop, which, I might mention, works very well to keep her away from mine. But my husband and I both work on computers. I work at home and he works overtime at home at night. I usually turn off my computer by the time I pick the kids up, but I must admit that I’m addicted to email and besides that, I have to keep up with my editors’ questions should they arise after my workday ends. So I check email on my phone. I also use it for grocery lists, appointments, and keeping track of tasks, so the kids see me using it a lot. Rose even knows how to get into it and play “Bubble Breaker.”

The other thing we have to remember is that our children are not our visitor. Rose already has a lot of social contact, and I might add, is quite popular, at preschool. Plus, as a writer, I can’t help but encourage her creativity, whether it comes in the form of an outlandish story (my favorite) or art or “music” on her ukelele.

It all comes down to how we raise them. Our visitor has made us hyper-aware of the dangers of media accessibility and saturation. Now that we’ve seen his extreme example, we can thank him for inspiring us to be better parents.