Over the past ten years, our society has been bombarded by iPods, iPads and gaming systems. Internet servers have changed from dial-up connections to wireless ones. Kids’ social scenes moved from the playground to behind a screen. And it all happened too fast.
It’s tough being a parent of the first digital generation. We are trying to figure out how to monitor usage, set guidelines and discipline as we go along and, at the same time, trying to learn so that we can stay one step ahead of our kids. While electronics and online games come with manuals and help centres, there is no guidance for us. What should they be playing? How much time can they have? How do I really know if this is school work or fun? We are the adults who set the rules but we still aren’t clear on exactly what those rules should be. We don’t have our own set of experiences to base our ideas on so it is impossible to compare our decisions to the ones our parents made when they were raising us.
I am lucky that my youngest, 9 years old, likes to share his online world with me. Last year, he created my own personal track in Minecraft. For my birthday, he gave me a Minecraft house, complete with a bed, library, crafting table and furnace. I try to sit with him while he designs but, in reality, I am usually hovering behind him making dinner or washing dishes while he plays.
Last night, the Littlest Dude and I were home alone, and he asked for time on the computer. Moments later, he asked, “Mom, do you want to learn how to play Roblox?” We’ve sat down with Roblox before and I really didn’t think there was that much more for me to learn; you build guys and they chase each other. But, for some unknown reason, the Littlest Dude really wanted to share his Roblox world with me. In the next 30 minutes, we created a new outfit for his character, which is really just the 2015 technological version of designing and playing with paper dolls. I watched him work within a budget as he only had so many Roblox dollars (Robox) to spend and weigh whether he was making good choices. He strategized as he played the game, trying to escape from some guys and find others so that he could improve his level. Within 30 minutes, I realized that there is an educational component to the game; blinded by the digital display, the Littlest Dude doesn’t even realize it is there.
As parents, we have to embrace the technology that our kids are using, not hide from it or shut it down. Yes, we need to set guidelines but we also need to sit down with our children and watch and learn as they play. In the same way that I want my kids to be a part of my running life, support me in my goals and cheer me on from the sidelines, I need to do the same for them.
But when we create my Roblox character, you can be pretty sure that she will be sporting a ponytail and a running skirt.