Kids and the Internet. Sam Wilson knows we should be afraid, but the question is... how afraid?
As my day job is editing websites, I am – as one would imagine – fairly up on things Netty. But even I got a skrik the other day, when I overheard the following conversation between my son and his friend.
"I love Captain Underpants books, don't you?" asked Joe of his friend Adam.
"I do," said Adam. (There's a luck, thought I.)
is full of cool games and downloads and songs and stuff," said Joe, his Net-knowledgable nonchalance slightly undermined by the careful relish with which he pronounced each w and dot. "You should check it out."
"Cool," said Adam. (Panic, I thought. These kids are barely SEVEN years old.)
As soon as Adam left, I engineered one of those Casual Inquisition kitchen moments with Joe – you know the kind, when you start pouring juice or spreading peanut butter and just happen to bring up a topic of violently burning parental interest.
"So, how did you find out about pilkey.com?" I asked, übercoolly I thought.
"Well... duh!" Joe replied, brandishing a battered copy of Captain Underpants and The Attack of The Talking Toilets. "It is written on the back of the cover, see?"
Ah. So not so übercool then. And that was when it dawned on me.
As a child of the '70s, it would never automatically occur to me to take an email address from the back cover of a book. I know that sounds ridiculous, what with working online and all, but for me, there is still an unconscious distinction between online and print. Realising that my son's generation is growing up surfing happily, and unconsciously, from one medium to another made me realise how very different his world is to mine.
It seriously got me thinking... are we as parents Netsavvy enough to guide our kids through the information explosion that is their heritage? There are so many pitfalls, and so many doomsayers, but the truth is the Net is going to be around a hell of a lot longer than we are, and it is kinda pointless to bury your head in a hardcover.
The instant ADD thing, in particular, worries me. I don't know about you, but my concentration span has gone for a ball of chalk since I started spending so much of my working life on the computer – I am continually doing five or six things at once, and I am not sure I am ever doing anything terribly well. (In fact, I just got entirely sidetracked by an email alert. Just three paragraphs up, I took a 45-minute detour to sign up for and then download 37 home-shot yoga lessons via podcast. Admittedly, I have always been a little stretched on the attention span front, but still.)
If that's how I am affected by the constant access to all the knowledge in the world, how must a child – deep in the 'why and how' phase – feel? How does one manage this potential brainfrying?
I don't know. We limit computer time in our house, but we also have family computer time, when we pick a topic and then search for it together... anything from Joe's latest school project to Asterix. (Let me just strip the smug parent from that comment... 'family computer time' usually begins when Joe catches me mid-pointless Web search. It is share or be shamed, really.)
We also big into books... and although Joe has just informed me that he prefers computer games to reading, we make sure he reads more than he plays computer games. Oh, and we are a Gameboy-free zone, but I suppose that's a whole different column.
These were the thoughts that were going through my mind as I prepared Joe's lunch that day. Before he threw me the inevitable kiddy clanger.
'Also, of course, I Googled Captain Underpants," he said over his shoulder, as he grabbed his peanut butter sandwich and apple juice, and hared off to his tree house.
I had a little frozen moment, peanut butter knife in hand, as my brain cogs spun out of control on that one.
"You Googled the phrase 'Captain UNDERPANTS?', I shrieked out of the kitchen window in horror.
Gaah!Are you worried about being less netsavvy then your child? Or are you freaking out at the thought of what kids can Google? Share your thoughts with us below.
This article originally appeared in Cape Town's Child magazine