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 Some parents even suggested their shy and withdrawn kids sign up for Facebook.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 One mother notices her son is becoming more withdrawn as he turns to the computer for most of his personal communication, and so she signs him up for some activities that are face-to-face.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.