Sunset at the Digital Gear Corral…

One of the most annoying of modern parenting challenges is managing electronics. Not battery life, not mediating between kids arguing about whose turn it is to charge their latest gizmo that’s “dying and I really need to get that text!” but just managing their all-too-pervasive presence in our lives nowadays.

If it’s not a laptop, it’s a cellphone or smart phone. If it’s not one of those, it’s an iPod. Whatever it is, I have a real love/hate relationship with them as a parent, because on the one hand I really enjoy my own gadgets, from my iPod collection to my well-used iPhone 4, my iPad to my trusty Macbook Pro. Heck, my workday is more characterized by headphones, a laptop and a smartphone, with a latte adjacent, than by cubicles and meetings.

So who am I to complain if my kids want to pop in earbuds and enjoy some new music on their iPod, or text their BFFs?

Well, thanks for asking!

I’m the Dad, and there are certain family electronic etiquette rules that I am starting to bring into our lives, and quite fascinatingly, it’s going very smoothly and easily, with nary a complaint. Rules = good.

digital gear corral
Sunset at the Digital Corral

Gadgets Like to Sleep — I also call this Sunset at the Digital Gear Corral: At 9pm all electronic devices are turned off for the night. My ex doesn’t do this, which means I have seen my 15yo daughter on Facebook at midnight, and received text messages from her at 11pm. Both of those are ridiculous, and I don’t care that she’s 15 and in High School. It’s important to take time off from our pervasive gadgets, so I enforce a curfew. All electronics are shut down, all text chats are wrapped up, and every gadget in the house ends up piled on the kitchen counter (as shown). Then they’re offlimits until the following morning. Done. No hassles.

Don’t Text While We’re Talking — This isn’t just rude, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. If you’re texting your friend, you aren’t listening to what I’m saying. My solution: I just stop talking mid-sentence and wait until my daughter has stopped communicating with her friend. Then I say ‘that was rude’ and continue my comment. If a message comes in while we’re talking, that’s okay. Obviously the person on the other end doesn’t know what’s going on. Glance at it and either a) say “Sorry, Dad, gotta answer this one quickly. Gimme a sec!” or b) look back up and give me the respect of your attention. I pledge to do the same to both my children and everyone else in my life.

No Headphones, No Earbuds — This is another pet peeve of mine: why are modern children so darn eager to escape their lives? Why use earbuds, why listen to music on headphones when you’re with your family? Maybe my kids don’t want to be with me 🙂 but this particular form of escapism is not (yet) an option, so I have a strict rule that both headphones and earbuds are verboten if they’re with other people, and 10x verboten if they’re with me or in the car.

iHome P46 iPod / iPhone dock
My daughter's dock: The iHome P46

Before you conclude I’m a monster and depriving them of their favorite tunes, you should know that we have a lot of iPod docks and external speakers around the house, including one in each child’s room and one in the car. If they want to listen to music while reading or doing homework, that’s fine. But not crazy loud and not music that’s inappropriate (in my opinion).

Computers In Living Spaces — There’s nothing more appealing than having a computer and being in private, where no-one can see what you’re doing and saying. It’s like a setup for the Dark Side to take over, however, and it’s also a classic warning indicator of potential trouble down the road. Easy enough: you want to use your computer, you have to be in the main area. Facebook, IM, Gmail, whatever. No e-secrets.

In Person Trumps Digital — Finally, this is a logical extension of what I’ve already talked about here: I believe that the person that you’re with is always more important and de facto worthy of more — or all — of your attention than anyone with whom you’re communicating electronically. If that’s not the situation, then minimal etiquette demands that you at least let the person you’re with know what’s going on. For example: “Ah, just a sec, gotta text my Dad the flight details for tomorrow…”

I think I’m pretty easygoing. I just want to start teaching my children to have a digital etiquette that, sadly, too many people in our world do not have.

You know who I’m talking about. It’s the person who loudly argues on their cellphone while sitting at the cafe, oblivious to the throngs of people glaring at them. It’s the person who believes it’s so important they not miss a word of their conversation that they’ll sit for a minute or two before even trying to start parallel parking. God forbid they put the phone down for a sec “just a sec, gotta park”. It’s the vast legion of zombie-like teens who crank their protest music at maximum volume, pouring it straight into their brain by an intravenous drip of earbuds or urban-chic headphones.

That’s my approach. What are you doing to try and tame the digital beast with your children? Or do you just let them figure things out for themselves and hope they won’t end up a boor, jerk, or self-absorbed git when they grow up?

4 comments on “Sunset at the Digital Gear Corral…

  1. Thanks for the great ideas! I especially love that you turn off all electronics after 9pm. genius. I don’t have kids yet, but this is always on my mind. When will we give them cell phones and computers? what will be our rules? I really loved this post!

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