My son’s English teacher recently told me she was worried about how he was doing in her class. I had a long talk with him, and a few hours later he came to me asking for help understanding the directions for a research project.
Good, I think. He’s taking the warning seriously and getting to work. But as I started to look over the instructions, he pulled out his phone and began Snapchatting with friends. I told him to put the phone away, but he kept sneaking peeks at it even as I tried to talk with him about the assignment.
This is the world we live in — where we all are trying to do several things at once and check our phone messages at the same time. My colleagues check their messages on their iPads in meetings. The minister of my church tells congregants to take out their cell phones so they can send messages to friends letting them know they are praying for them. I have a friend who snaps pictures of her dinner and posts it to Facebook before she eats.
I fear that the constant presence of electronic media is giving us all attention deficit disorder. A good friend of mine, who doesn’t have kids, says we need to throw the devices away. Kids just need to learn to read, write, think and speak, he says.
But the genie is out of the bottle. The English teacher who is worried about my son’s performance posts her assignments on a class wiki. When I see my son on the computer, how do I know if he is chatting on Facebook or doing his homework?
The phone poses the same problem. Now that he is driving, I insist he take his phone so he can let me know where he is and when he’ll be home. But how do I know he isn’t texting while he’s behind the wheel? I teach at a school that gives all students iPads so they can download their textbooks and do class assignments. But many of those students are using their iPads to watch Netflix and chat with friends.
Every day we are confronted by the amazing potential of computers and smart phones — for good and bad. Yes, there is help out there; the Web is chockfull of information telling parents how to monitor their kids’ internet use. It’s also full of information telling kids how to get around those parental controls.
We can’t take away the devices, but we have to constantly teach our kids how to use them properly. They need an app for that.
Liz Atwood is a former Baltimore Sun features editor who teaches journalism at Hood College. She is the mother of two sons, ages 12 and 16.