Happy Birthday! Don’t Grow Up So Fast

Today is January 23rd, and it is on this day that my eldest daughter turns 12. That’s bittersweet; on one hand I celebrate her growth into a beautiful, caring and free-spirited girl. On the other, bitter hand, it reminds that I get just six or so years with her before college and new horizons take her away. Of those, the teenage years will cloak at least three years with a bad attitude and sullen behavior. Ultimately, if the Almighty is kind and holds the fate of my little family close to his heart, she and I will make it through those years and all the way to the other side — where the start of her adventure into adulthood awaits.

Here’s to hoping that she does a better job of navigating the forked-path choices to come than I did. I’ll try to arm her with the maturity and knowledge she needs to make it through, but life is a funny thing: too often when we head out on one tack but end up with a new set of realities.

Anyway.
It’s a sure bet that she will always be a step ahead of where I was because the reality of today is that kids are more savvy than ever before. Blame it on the digital revolution: life is now a multi-layered, fast-moving exercise with far more information and inputs. That’s a conundrum, just like having a daughter turn 12: On one hand young people absolutely must get technology in their hands: those most comfortable with the concepts and functionality of mobile communications, augmented reality and robotics have an opportunity to do something outstanding with their lives. Those who know how to navigate tablets and smartphones will have a distinct advantage over those who don’t. Indeed, by the time 2019 arrives, talk of digital media budgets, digital marketing or digital anything will have vanished; our conversion into a digital society will be complete, and the young people best able to master the concepts of the technology will call the shots.

But then there’s the other side.
A childhood is a treasure meant for friends and fresh air, not for texting and tweeting. The old crank in me says that mobile devices are a plague on childhood because the technology we have today is not ready to balance critical issues like privacy and intrusive social interactions that lead to bullying, peer pressure and mistakes in judgement. Mostly, it’s a proven fact that mobile devices are designed to create a need by establishing a habit, from the screen interface to the way they feel in the palm of your hand. Add an impressionable kd and that’s a worrying combination.

Point in fact, however, is that we parents also aren’t ready to handle the scenarios that technology brings for kids: the simple question as to when a child should be allowed to have a cell phone in like an unanswerable riddle to most of us. According gigaom.com and Sodahead, a survey of 1,066 parents found that 66 percent felt the age of 16 was appropriate for a smartphone. That finding was greeted by round after round of polite jeers in the comments section, with most people writing that their elementary-aged children were wielding smartphones and tablets. That’s crazy and stupid. But then I don’t know the answer, either, so who am I to judge?

What I do know is this. My wife and I gave her an iPod Touch recently, which was promptly confiscated at school by a teacher, proving that while children may be adept at using the technology, they aren’t quite up to speed on knowing how to handle the responsibility of it. What I also know is that on the night of her birthday, it snowed, and the joy that sprang from my daughter at the prospect of a snow day was pure and unrestrained.

There is no such thing as an app that can bring that kind of silly happiness.

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