You teach your children some fashion sense
And they fashion some of their own
- Gordon Downie

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Technological Dissonance

dis·so·nance Noun /ˈdisənəns/
  • dissonances plural
  • Lack of harmony among musical notes
    • an unusual degree of dissonance for such choral styles
    • the harsh dissonances give a sound which is quite untypical of the Renaissance
  • A tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements

The idea for this post has been percolating for over a year, but I never seem to get around to actually writing it. I've changed titles, messed around with the topic and even now, I'm rewriting this introduction for the fourth or fifth time. In essence, this post is about saying NO to your kids even when you eventually say YES. It's not easy to explain, so here goes.

I’m not talking about a state of total denial. I’m just saying that it is a parent’s job to teach their children. As a child's primary teacher, parents do children no favors by saying “Yes” to all of their requests.

For several years, I was absolutely adamant that our children would not have video games or a gaming system. I said no for a long, long time. At times, I ranted and raved. I cited the "vidiots" I taught who spent every waking hour gaming instead of reading or doing my incredibly meaningful homework. I read to my kids every chance I got. We did not (and still do not) have a DVD player in our vehicle. When we went on a long road trip, we took books, played games like 21 Questions and, if it was an extra long trip, we purchased an Invisible Ink puzzle book.

My reasoning went something like this... I didn’t have anything like it when I grew up. Most of my friends had some sort of gaming system – Atari, Intellivision, Colecovision. I made do with my handheld Coleco football game. I never was very good at video games (with the notable exception of Galaga) so I spent a lot of my childhood enjoying simple things like reading and playing with sticks. I can honestly say that I don’t feel like I missed anything because I didn’t own an Intellivision until 1996 (a fellow teacher had a system gathering dust in his garage, so I brought it home on a whim.)

Over the past couple of years, gaming systems have gradually made their way into our house. Santa brought my oldest son a Nintendo DS and since then, a DSI, two iPods and an Xbox Kinect have appeared. My children have always had a computer to use. They are digital natives and it amazes me to watch them interact with and figure out anything that is electronic. What finally swayed me was watching how their peers interacted and socialized. Gaming has become a social event that can be shared whether they are in the same place as a friend or not. I wondered if I was turning my kids into social pariahs through my absolute denial of portable, personal gaming systems.

Their gaming was initially restricted to educational sites and games like Brain Age. Over time, we have mellowed. Before our New Year's Eve party this year, I even purchased the Dance Central game so the kids could play (and laugh at the adults.)

In retrospect, it appears that I was being obstinate and perhaps hypocritical about gaming systems. I did have handheld games as a kid – Coleco Football, Mattel Basketball, and an amazing piece of plastic called a Merlin. When I was twelve, one of the coolest things I did with the friend I wrote about in Stand by Me was to play Space Invaders on his Atari. During my third year of University, I bought a Mac Classic II (after all, it had a blazing clock speed of 16mHz, twice as fast as the first generation of Mac Classics. When I started dating my wife, I did enjoy playing Donkey Kong on their Nintendo. I have a laptop from work that I bring home and take with me when I travel. My wife and I both have an iPhone and when I’m away from 3G and WiFi, it seems strange to me.

Part of the reason this post has taken so long is that I don’t believe in preaching. I particularly don’t want to write one thing, then turn around and do the other thing. My first title for this post was “Do Your Kids a Favour and Say No”. Upon further reflection, dissonance has tempered my outer grouch.

In my job, I do encounter children whose parents indulge their every whim. For many parents, screen time for their children means peace and quiet. Buying candy in the store also buys a quiet child and prevents embarrassment. My wife and I try hard to ensure that our children understand that they cannot have everything. We don't have the financial resources, but more importantly, I really want my kids to understand that things need to be earned.

More than anything, I hope that parents think carefully about the decisions they make when it comes to their children. I take a very long time to make decisions because I really need to understand as much a possible about an issue before I determine my stance. I am pleased with the way technology operates in our home. It allows us to learn, to communicate and provides a great deal of entertainment. Like anything, moderation is crucial. Every hour spent in front of a screen is balanced with an hour of physical activity, homework, reading or family time.

After all, I spend a great deal of time writing this blog because I really enjoy writing and I love the feedback I get from people on the thoughts that rattle around in my head. It would be pretty sanctimonious for me to deny my children the opportunites that technology affords them. I may not always say what I mean, but I do mean what I say!


  1. Thanks for this, Ted. I've read a couple book on cognitive dissonance in the last while (Mistakes Were Made and Willful Blindness). You describe the feeling of dissonance aptly. Being aware of it is more than half the battle - and remember, Dissonance is never convenient but it's always an opportunity to grow.


  2. I got to your post via Joe Bower's blog. What would happen if you substituted "skateboard" for technology in the sentence?

    I guess what I'm trying to get at is that as a parent, I worry as much about the effect of a skateboard on my kid as I do about technology- the chance to get hurt or get into trouble; whether the subculture related to skater dudes is what I think is appropriate; questioning my prejudice about skater and slackers and whether I am making a decision based on perception and market/media ideas of skaters or the kids my kid hangs out with.

    It's never the tool or the thing, it's never the skateboard or the X Box that's really the issue. It's about how we want to communicate our values to our kids, and when do we trust them to make their own choices, and when do we support their choices, financially and time/attitudinally? When do we trust them to make good decisions, because we've taught them to be reasonable? When do we set limits because it's important to learn to have limits and learn to pace yourself and balance roles and responsibilities in your life?

    I find it interesting everyone uses technology and "video games- yes or no" often as the centerpiece in this common parental balancing act, but I think the same thing holds true for skateboards, learning to drive, dating- you name it. It's about maturing, letting go, and good decision making.

    Great post!

  3. The real issue here is saying "no." Parents have always had the same challenge. It's only the toys that are different. Music for example? Elvis started it for me. Parents were horrified. Now we wonder what the fuss was about over Elvis. I still listen to Elvis!
    I also wonder if you had another two children in ten years how you would deal with this? You've spent a year writing this post and it keeps changing on you. I was fifteen when my youngest brother was born and his upbringing was completely different.

  4. I really appreciate these comments! I agree that though my post focused on technology, this post was mostly about trying to do the best for my children. Skateboards, music, friendship choices, education, career paths and lifestyle choices are all on the horizon.