What is summer for?

Do you remember your summers? Were you required to read, go to academic classes, or practice math? No, me neither. Mr. Geeky and I revisited the kids vegging out issue this morning. He thinks they’re vegging out too much. I say, meh, whatever.  I vegged out in the summer and look how I turned out.  The thing is, I overscheduled myself this summer.  And when I’m not scheduled to do something, *I* want to veg out.  I spent the first part of the summer working almost every day, even weekends.  When the last conference was over last week, and the family was gone, I balanced out doing work, cleaning the house, and having fun.  I went to the dog park, played WoW, and watched a couple of movies.  When the family got back, the Sunday before July 4th, we continued to laze around a bit, and I’ve pretty much done very little work this week.  I went into work Tuesday, and I poked at a project yesterday, but today I woke up feeling a little ill, so I’m planning to take it easy.

The thing is, I’m lucky.  I should take advantage of that luck, of having weeks of free time and not spend it doing work or thinking I should be doing work (which is really what I do when I’m not doing work.  Witness the writing of this post to justify said not doing work.).  When I was Geeky Girl’s age–that is, 12–I went to the pool almost every day, or I played at a friends house or we went to matinees.  When I was Geeky Boy’s age–16–I did have a job, but I didn’t work the whole summer, and I still went to the pool when I could and I took at least a two-week vacation with my family.  I didn’t not, at any time, do any kind of enrichment activities.  I was a smart kid and that just wasn’t the culture then.  Now, as I think Mr. Geeky and I both feel, the culture is different.  It feels weird somehow to tell friends that your kids are actually just hanging out this summer, not working, not going to camp.  Geeky Boy is going to a class every afternoon from 1-4:30.  It takes 45 minutes to drive there.  When he’s not in class, he’s on the computer.  And therein lies our trouble.  Nowadays, kids’ leisure time is more likely to take place in front of a screen rather than at a pool or hanging out at a friends house doing something non-screen related.  And that makes me anxious.

When I was a kid/teen, my parents didn’t much care what I did in the summer.  Or after school or at night for that matter.  Somehow, we all now feel like we have to structure our kids’ time, even their leisure time.  Is that fair?  Does it help or hurt?  I really don’t know, but I know I both don’t like it and feel uncomfortable when I’m not structuring their time enough.

Organizing summer

Mr. Geeky and I were just discussing how to organize our kids this summer.  Geeky Boy is going to one camp.  Geeky Girl isn’t going to any, so we have long days ahead of us.  Though we want them to have relaxing summers, we also don’t want them to totally veg out. Mr. Geeky and I both have work to get done, and my personal plan is to work in the mornings and take the afternoons off.  A few summers ago, perhaps when I was still working on my dissertation, that’s exactly what I did, and it worked well.  I spent a focused 3 or 4 hours in the morning working, and then could relax guilt free in the afternoons.

We want the kids to do the same thing.  Both have summer reading to do.  We’d like them to do some other academic-like work.  We’d even be open to them playing music and other non-computer-like activity.  So we’ll figure out a plan and see what we all come up with.  What do you all do with your long summer days?

A Survey for Mothers

I received email from UMW professor, Miriam Liss, asking me to post a survey for my blog readers that will help her and her students do some research.  I’m always happy to help my UMW friends.

The survey is not strictly for parents/mothers, but, as Dr. Liss said, “We are looking for parents and non-parents but are especially interested in the views of mothers.”  Seems like a good thing to do in honor of Mother’s Day.

Here’s the link: http://edu.surveygizmo.com/s3/504769/5ce89fe88b59

Feel free to pass it on.

What a Wacky Technology Family We Are

A little while ago, I had a craving for a cup of hot apple cider.  I had asked Geeky Boy to bring me some.  A half-hour later, no cider.  I had snuggled into bed with my laptop and was catching up on some blog reading when I decided I needed my cider.  I tried yelling for him, but he had his headphones on and couldn’t hear me.  Of the many tabs I had open were gmail, Facebook, Twitter.   I checked Gmail–not logged on.  Ditto Facebook.  And he doesn’t have a Twitter account.  I was about to get out of bed and either get my own cider or pitifully ask again.  That’s when I remembered: Skype.  I logged in and sure enough, there he was.  I sent him a message: I really need some cider. 🙂 Then he called me, laughing hysterically, and said, Coming right up.

Parenting: Ur Doing it Wrong

Lots of brouhaha over parenting this week in the blogosphere.  The loudest complaints coming from arguments about “Chinese mothers” vs. American ones.  Go find the articles.  You’ve read them or heard about them.  The basic argument is that we Americans are too permissive and soft as parents and that only Asian parents, who insist on violin lessons, science fairs, and no social life will have successful kids.

The sucky thing about parenting is that you never know if you’re doing it right until you get to the end. And even then, you might not really know.  Oh, sure, sometimes you see your kid go off the rails in the teenage years (I’m there, people), and you wonder if it’s your fault.  Did you not read to them enough? Did working full time harm them in some way? Should you have insisted on that science camp back in 7th grade?  I personally don’t see permissive parenting happening around me.  I see a lot of anxiety among parents and kids about doing it right–mostly for the golden ticket into the “right” college.  I get it.  Getting into the “right” college seems to be the ticket to success.

At least that’s the line we’ve all been fed around here.  And yes, some of it is true.  But what is the right college? And for that matter, what is success?  Being around high achievers, which many of us in education (higher and otherwise) are, makes one define success fairly narrowly.  And that’s not really fair.  It’s not fair to our kids and it’s anxiety-producing for most of us as parents.

I had to redefine success for myself as I rejected the typical path for a person with a Ph.D., and I’ve had to step back and let my kids define success for themselves.  It’s a harder thing than one might think.  I, like many parents, had an idea of what my kids would be like.  But they haven’t turned out that way.  They’ve surprised me.  At first, I found that surprise unpleasant, but now, I’m delighted.  As a parent, I’ve simply tried to provide the scaffolding and support for the success my kids are starting to define.  And yes, that sometimes means lessons and insisting on certain grades.  But I’ve learned there’s only so much I can do as a parent.  At a certain point, it’s up to my kids, and I just have to wait and see.  And yes, the waiting is killing me.

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Other (Mom) Duties as Assigned

I got zero done today (in terms of work stuff).  When I signed up for this mom gig, I knew about the feeding, clothing, burping, changing diapers, even the carting to and from school and other activities, but some days, there’s way more to it than that.  Today was filled with an accomplishment, a crisis, having the you know what scared out of me, chauffeuring, negotiating, meal planning, grocery shopping, counseling, dog walking, and laundry.  First, I handed over my volunteer web site duties.  Over coffee and a scone at Starbucks, we transferred accounts, and I showed the new person the ropes.  We’re also both teachers, and know people in common (she considered applying for my job), so we chatted about getting ready for school and fun things like that.  As I drove home I felt good to have relinquished a task.

But I came home to a minor teenager crisis that involved an hour of discussion in the car.  Teenagers are challenging.  Teenagers who fall outside the norm (which doesn’t take much) are even more challenging.  After we had that squared away, I entered into negotiations with the almost teenager about plans for lunch and a movie.  She and several of her friends packed their lunches and headed to a nearby park for lunch and then I was going to take them to a movie.  This required discussions with parents on timing–one girl had clearly underestimated the amount of time it would take her to walk to the park–and pick up and drop off times.

After all that was worked out, Geeky Girl made her lunch while Geeky Boy and I ate ours.  Then she left for the park, which is a mere block and a half from our house.  About 15 minutes later, one of her friends called to say that they couldn’t find Geeky Girl.  I immediately imagine the worst and assume she’s been abducted and start planning how I will react in front of the other girls so I won’t worry them.  As I round the bend of the road leading into the park, I can clearly see Geeky Girl sitting at a picnic table.  As I approach, she gets up and walks toward me.  There are no signs of her friends.  Now, I think they’ve been abducted.  Just as I’m trying to figure out how to tell their parents, they come marching across the playground waving.  Tragedy averted.

By now, there’s only 1/2 hour left until we need to leave for the movie.  40 minutes later, no girls.  So, Geeky Boy and I, who are making a trip to the store, hop in the car and drive over to the park.  For the third time today, I think they’ve been abducted, although honestly, by now I just assume they’ve deliberately gone somewhere just to scare the crap out of me.  As we pull into the road I had walked down just a while earlier, there they are, like the 3 Musketeers.  They all climb in the back, giggling and talking, their voices just a little too high pitched and a little too loud.  I remind myself that this will be my life for the foreseeable future.  Geeky Boy is dead silent.

On the way to the movie, the girls negotiate to come to our house afterwards, turning lunch and a movie, which has already been filled with adrenaline pumping moments, into a full on playdate.  I agree, of course and phone call to parents are made.

Then, Geeky Boy and I head to the store, which should have been the easiest thing in the world, except that the road to the store is closed.  We take a detour that involves sitting in traffic way longer than necessary.  Luckily, I know an alternate way home.

We get home and put away groceries and I have a whole five minutes before I have to leave to pick up the girls from the theater.

I get home, walk the dog and go to the produce store for a few items not available at the other store.

Currently, the girls are downstairs playing video games.  There is lots of cheering, laughing, yelling, and OMG’s!

When people wonder what parents do all day, this is it.  I’ve had probably an hour to myself today, in 15 minute chunks.

Update 8: In defense of “technomom”

Renee Hobbes, a professor at Temple University, writes an opinion piece in today’s Inquirer about a recent study that shows that kids where a computer has been introduced into the home actually lost ground in reading and math skills.   I agree with most of what she says, which boils down to what a lot of us in the educational technology field have been saying for years: access to the technology does not automatically make kids smarter.  We’ve spent a long while debunking the myth that kids today are Digital Natives who automatically know how to assess information online and then remix it into their own fabulous creations.  Unfortunately the “digital native” voices are the ones that were louder, or were the ones that were picked up by the media.  It’s a much easier story to say we old people are clueless about technology and these young people are going to save the world with the techno-knowledge.  It was also easier for schools to pop in computer labs and smartboards and institute laptop programs without considering what to do with them.  At least they could say they put the technology into kids’ hands.

So I agree with her on that point and her criticism of schools for not addressing critical thinking skills when it comes to technology.  There are exceptions to that, of course, but until recently, many schools added technology fairly blindly.  What I take most issue with is her characterization of parents.  Early in the piece, she says this of mothers (not dads, notice, but moms):

THESE days, the “soccer mom” has long been replaced by the “techno mom” who buys a Leapfrog electronic toy for her baby; lap-surfs with her toddler; has a Wii, Xbox and PlayStation for the kids; puts the spare TV in the child’s bedroom; sets her child down for hours at a time to use addictive social media like Webkinz and Club Penguin; and buys a laptop for her preteen so she won’t have to share her own computer.

This pisses me off, quite frankly.  We had electronic toys for our kids fairly early on.  And yes, we have a Wii and a Playstation, but I bought the Playstation originally for me, not my kids, thank you very much.  There’s no TV in either of the kids rooms or computer either, and there never will be.  Our kids have played online games, yes and yes, my son has his own computer.  Because I have to do work on my computer, actual work, and he has homework that has to be done, and yes, he uses Facebook and plays online games, etc.  Yes, we could share.  In fact, we tried that model, but it didn’t really work for us.  I suppose we could have pushed Geeky Boy into something that had nothing to do with computers, and that would have been fine, but it would have cut off his social life.  We limit our kids online activities.  We’re not perfect about it, but we do our best to help our kids balance their computer activities with sports, reading, and other interests.  Quite frankly, most of the parents I know a) don’t have as much technology in their house as we do and b) also severely limit their kids’ online activities.  For good or ill, most of the parents I’m around (which I realize is very class-specific), bought into the media fear-mongering long ago and have gone into the other direction of being fairly restrictive about computer activities.  There are certainly kids I know of who are online constantly, mostly not because their mom is too busy blogging or facebooking to pay attention, but because their mom is working long hours.  So I take issue with this new stereotype.

Hobbes continues this characterization toward the end by saying, “Unfortunately, many parents are too distracted with their “constantly connected” life to pay much attention to how the computer is used at home.”  Again, most parents I know aren’t “constantly connected.”  I can barely find moms on Facebook.  Most parents who are distracted are distracted by work.  While some see that as a negative thing, in this economy, many people can’t afford not to stay connected to work.

I think it’s a good idea to point out to educators and parents that just putting a computer in the house or classroom isn’t going to magically transform a kid.  But I don’t think it’s a good idea to degrade parents and educators for “not paying attention.”  Many are paying attention and we should help those that aren’t, rather than making them feel like bad people.

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Life, disrupted

Yesterday was a crazy day.  It shouldn’t have been but it was.  The morning was fine.  I worked on a couple of things. I got some stuff together that needed to be mailed off.  Before lunch with a friend, I dropped it at the post office.  After lunch, I had planned to go by Geeky Girl’s school and get some materials I needed to prepare for a lesson I’m doing today.  I had been by the day before and they weren’t there, so I double checked the information when I got home and planned to pick them up after lunch.  Only, again, they weren’t there.  So I emailed the other volunteers and watched as the hours went by with no response.  Geeky Boy had something in the afternoon which he insisted he didn’t have and when he called to check, he found out that yes, he did have it, but it got postponed because we were late.  Which meant that *I* had to reschedule something I had later, which bummed me out because the thing I had was supposed to be fun.  I made dinner, ate dinner, and did more stuff that was not my own and got disrupted by one kid or another every time I tried to do something.  And then I passed out before 10.

I was kind of cranky yesterday.  I hate being cranky.  You’d think by now I’d be used to the fact that kids are disruptive.  One of our friends back in grad school when we asked him to describe what life was like with a kid (before we had any), he said, “It’s like watching Jeopardy and then not ever getting to see final Jeopardy.”  This was also before Tivo and DVRs, which have been a boon to at least that kind of disruption.  I think one of the hardest things for me as a parent is realizing that your life isn’t always your own.  You are responsible for the well-being of others and that often means that you don’t get to do what you want when you want to.  Now I’m a “put your own oxygen mask on first” kind of parent.  I believe in taking time for yourself and not putting your whole life into your kids.  And, I think I’ve done a good job over the years of doing that.  But sometimes, you have absolutely no choice.  And I don’t mean just in emergencies.  Sometimes, the kids just have to come first.

Now that my kids are older, there are less disruptions, but they’re still there.  And because they’re more infrequent (they used to be constant), I get cranky about them.  I really shouldn’t.  Also as the kids get older, I realize how little time I have left with them living under my roof.  In three years, Geeky Boy will be off to college (presumably) and then on to other things.  And Geeky Girl is just 7 years away.  That time will go by quickly.  It’s hard sometimes to pull oneself back to the present, to being in the moment and really appreciating it, rather than thinking about what your kids are keeping you from doing.  Or worse, looking *forward* to the time when they’ll be gone.  Because when I really think about it, I don’t look forward to it.  I will miss seeing them every day and talking to them.  I will actually miss those disruptions, the questions, the stories, the funny observations.  And I know I’ll still worry about them, hope for them, and be happy for them.  And I’ll wish for their disruptions.  For now, I have to think of them not as disruptions, but as moments of connection, time to be together.

Technology and Kids’ Friendships

Image by Adam UXB Smith via Flickr

The New York Times reports on the latest Pew findings about how much time kids spend texting each other.  A side note: why do they always put these articles in fashion? Seriously?  Why not technology?  It seems to me that putting in the tech section would accomplish two things.  One, it might get the tech audience to think about some of the implications of the gadgets and software they’re so interested in reading about.  And two, it might get some parents and teachers who are otherwise clueless about what’s out there to find out more about trends in technology.  Just a thought.

So anyway, the article begins with the usual scare mongering about how all this technology is changing the nature of friendships and for the worse.  I think it’s important to consider the downside to anything, but it’s also important to consider the upside, the possibility that a change might actually be a good thing.  Which, thankfully, the second half of the article does.  Parents say that they believe texting has brought their kids closer to their friends.  Some parents even suggested their shy and withdrawn kids sign up for Facebook.

One thing the article doesn’t mention is the possible connection between parents’ fears about child abduction, etc. and the use of technology.  What I mean by that is that we are less likely, have been less likely, to let our kids wander over to a friend’s house or to the park to meet up with friends.  So texting and Facebook and MySpace and online games are a substitute for those face-to-face interactions.  It’s possible that the turn to online interactions would have happened anyway, without the parenting changes, because of the novelty of those interactions.  But we should always consider that there are larger society shifts at play and that the introduction of technology might not be the only thing causing the shift.

Also, there’s barely a mention of balance.  One mother notices her son is becoming more withdrawn as he turns to the computer for most of his personal communication, and so she signs him up for some activities that are face-to-face.  And I think that’s key.  I’m less concerned about my kids hanging out online when they are also playing sports or participating in other face-to-face activities.  And I think that’s important.  In the summer, I limit the amount of time the kids spend online even more because they don’t have the natural interactions of school to turn to.  And the weather is nice enough that I can kick them outside for a few hours.  If we get a really nasty rainy day, I’ll extend time online as a treat, but even then, I also make them go read or play a board game.  It’s all about the variety of activities, and I’m always trying to encourage that variety.

Geeky Boy communicates with most of his friends (and his girlfriend–yikes!) through texting, Facebook, or Runescape.  But much of that communication is about arranging occasions to meet.  And he spends a fair amount of time actually talking on the phone as well.  The one thing I will say that’s disappointing about all this online communication is that I know less about his friends than my parents knew about mine.  My friends often had to talk to my mom or dad first before they’d hand over the phone to me and they’d come by the house or one parent or another would drive us all to the mall or the movies or the pool.  Now, they’re not allowed to be dropped off anywhere, mostly and no one has cars, so I’ve met very few of Geeky Boy’s friends.  Maybe that will change when they start to drive, or maybe it will all remain a mystery.

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How technology, especially video games, is ruining us all

I have a Google search feed with the key words “video games education” in it because I have an interest in the use of video games for learning.  What I find interesting, however, is that a certain portion of articles that come through this feed are not about that, but are about how video games are terrible in multiple ways.  Among recent titles and pull-out quotes are these:

  • With technologies such as the Internet, video games, television and iPods, it’s difficult to get together and spend some time with your family.
  • Texting, video games, iPods, and Facebook have replaced playing, daydreaming, reading, and creating.
  • US: Women gain in science while video games hold back boys
  • I think alot [sic] of teacher really are doing there [sic] job but the parents got to get involve more instead of letting those kids watching tv,playing video games,etc
  • Besides, they have a BETTER WORK ETHIC than a lot of lazy, ENTITLED American children with their video games, ipods, cell phones, and tvs in their rooms.

That last is from a comment on a protest by NJ teachers, who are potentially going to be laid off as a result of some severe cuts to education that Gov. Christie is proposing.  I couldn’t find the comment he/she was responding to, but it’s pretty easy to guess what the substance of it was.

There’s a whole “kids these days” kind of tone to many of these articles, blaming them for their immersion in technology, sometimes blaming the parents.  I was kind of glad to see tv thrown in there a couple of times, because often people regard television watching as superior to spending time online.  I’d rather my kids play an online game for an hour than watch some of the stuff that’s on tv.  Even though these articles are not what I’m looking for, I find they provide an interesting perspective on the portrayal of video games in the media.

And yes, I know it’s WoW Wednesday and I’ve been remiss in posting.  I promise two more posts today, actually, a WoW one, and an exciting review.  Stay tuned!