Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Raising Low-Tech Media Light Children

Lately, my son has been coming home from school, talking in code. All I can decipher are these strange but consistent letter and number combinations: PSP, DS, MP3, Xbox360, Nano, and Wii. I notice that when he speaks this secret language, he is filled with a mixture of longing, excitement, and loathing. I’m not exactly sure but it seems like the loathing is primarily directed at his Dad and me. Whatever he’s talking about has him pretty wound up.


Tuesday at the playground, he got obsessed with two boys his age who were plugged into these tiny electronic boxes. After stalking them for 15 minutes, he finally asked what they were listening to. (I was lurking nearby, picking at my fingernails, trying to look inconspicuous.)



“What?...”WHAT?”, one guy kept yelling in response to his moving lips.


Zeke repeated the question only louder. Finally one of them pulled the plugs out of his ears and said incredulously, “Dude, this is an Ipod Shuffle. What? You never seen one before?”


“Yeah, I used one at the museum one time.” My son seems relieved.


“Oh.” The other boy is unimpressed.


Then the other kid pipes up.


“I got a DS, a PSP, and a Wii at home, too,” he brags.  My son’s face falls. He shoots me a look and heads over to play some basketball. So, yes, it’s true, the loathing is directed at me.


When we get home, I sneak down to the computer and Google the letters. (The irony is not lost on me.) Video games and electronic media sources flood my screen- Sony’s PlayStationPortable, Nintendo DS, Apple’s Ipod Nano, Microsoft’s Xbox360 and Nintendo Wii. My son wants to be plugged in. And oh boy, we are so not plugged in. Yeah, I use the computer to do research and write but my MAC Powerbook is ancient and ostensibly, I am a Luddite. 

And as for media, we only recently got a DVD player, which we thought was faulty because we couldn’t play Disney movies without the screen going from dark to light. I happened to mention it at a soccer practice and a dad told us that if we ran the DVD player through our VCR, Disney set it up that way so someone wouldn’t be able to pirate movies… And to think we spent months fuming about the inadequacy of our machine and almost bought a new one. Of course, we (not Wii) are usually what’s inadequate when it comes to technology.


I’m the “mean mom” who only allows PBS cartoons and Animal Planet and definitely not before or after school. We do family movie night on Fridays and Saturday morning cartoons, and the pajama party or dinner party special movie viewing.


To be sure, I have plugged my children into movies so I can work and honestly, it hasn’t been all that successful. The whine factor increases 90% and their ability to transition or find things to do that are unrelated to “watching something” diminishes. I also notice that when I have succumbed to a faster paced kind of cartoon like “Phineas and Ferb”, my son gets all wound up with a spastic kind of unfocused energy that usually leads to no good.



I want my children to run and play and touch things and make things and talk to their friends and to communicate with my husband and me. I want them to hang out in their imaginations for as long as I can hold out. I don’t want to give in to the peer pressure of the tenacious 8 year old. But that’s what I want…


As my son’s ninth birthday fast approaches, I am forced to revisit what’s appropriate for him, now. He uses computers at school and wants to play computer games. But I love to hear him in his room after school setting up Lego forts and aircrafts and making his guys talk. I know that won’t last forever so I’m holding on. For now.