Monday, February 21, 2011

Am I Turning My Child Into A Geek?

We're not big on computer games. The kids have very limited computer play time. We want them to use their time exploring the world, making things, drawing, playing outside, reading books, inventing games, and in general being in a position where their creativity is drawn out.

They have virtually nothing that goes "beep". The little girls have toys and paper dolls and real dolls and lots of stuffed animals. The older girls knit and sew and make things with beads; they also have all kinds of girly things, stuff for their hair and clothes and many things that males of the species can never really understand. John Paul has cars and baseball cards and legos and konnects and all that kind of stuff. My kids actually have pen pals--they write letters to their friends and are thrilled to receive letters in return (I must say, I miss that special feeling of getting an actual letter in the mail, written by friend or loved one in their own hand).

We're not anti-electronic. I gave John Paul my old video camera, and they make up funny videos. And we have nothing against computers. But we want the kids to learn to inhabit their environment in such a way that the computer can take its relative place within that larger world. So we are gradually habituating them to the mysterious powers of the computer. The internet thus far has remained a limited experience for them too, and always under the supervision of Mommy or Daddy.

But things are beginning to evolve for John Paul. He is 13 going on 14, smart, and has a knack with gadgets. So I decided to cut him loose on the computer. I've let him pretty much take control of the family desktop, and he has organized it internally and externally--consolidating files and untangling wires. Its great. We have a new background screen every day. He has loaded programs I never knew we had.

And I've made it his project. I don't answer questions (usually because I don't know the answers). He says, "What's this for?" and I say, "I don't know; figure it out." And he figures it out. This is great, because I hate computer stuff--I don't care HOW it works as long as it works. And I have zero patience with problems. For me step one is throw the thing out the window and shout nasty words that I'm not supposed to say in front of the children. He is patient. He is learning to fix problems, and seems to enjoy the challenge. The other day, he was messing with something and suddenly yelled, "DARN!" and I said, "ha! like father like son," and he calmly replied, "yes, but notice I said darn."

Right now, the digital camera is his constant companion. I'll probably upload some of his better shots when I get the chance.

John Paul is learning to use the computer as a tool, a means to an end, a medium that has a purpose. He is not getting sucked into it. That is what I want. We have to learn to use these technological instruments to enrich life, the larger life, the life of the spirit and of freedom, of human relationships and love. I want my children to learn (and I want to learn too) that there is a Person at the other end of every action they perform, a Person who is loved primarily through and in the persons in our lives who need our love and our attention, who benefit from our talents and the fruits of our labor--whether it comes from the use of global-linking technology or from the use of a cloth to wipe the table.