Life and lunacy in my large adoptive family


Cathy Gilbert
Focus on Adoption magazine

Learning to live with kids more tech-savvy than yourself

My father remembered a horse and cart delivering milk to his door as a child; indeed his father wondered if they would ever put a man on the moon. It’s hard to believe, that for some of us computers are relatively new --that we (some of us I mean) began life without them and actually remember a time when you couldn’t just find what you were looking for on the internet.

Yes, things have changed.

My first recollection of a computer is from high school. A collection of very nerdy guys (all probably among the super rich nowadays) would gather in a room full of what appeared to me to be confusing machinery, but was probably a mainframe of some kind. I seem to recall that they had cool looking punch cards that were used along with it. I do remember being sweet on one of the computer nerd boys; I was friends with his sister and contrived to stay for a sleepover with her, so I could spy on him. He never did notice me; just as well, he probably only wanted 1.5 children or something (Editor’s note: Cathy has 16).

Fast forward to the mid 1990s. That’s when we got our first home computer. Truthfully I don’t remember much about it; the kids were of course both more enthusiastic than I, and learned much quicker. But like most North Americans, it’s hard now to think of life without it.

How has it changed parenting? I think about that often. Yes, of course there is lots that we can learn from educational programs on TV, and many amazing things can be found on the internet, but what about the real world out there? Kids being raised in this new electronic world seem to have an innate interest in it; in fact most parents I talk to seem to have to put limits on screen time. So how do we convince the kids that doing stuff in the real world is at least as important as what they learn from a screen? For example you take kids for a road trip and they spend their time watching TV in the car or playing a hand held game rather than looking out the window at the Grand Canyon.

Or that talking to a friend on the phone, or even, consider this - in person - has real value?

The pressure from the education system to allow access to home computers is significant as well. I am one of the dinosaur parents; we have had to remove our shared household computer from an open area of the house due to a need for close supervision. Few of our kids have regular access to a computer at home. A couple of teachers have let us know they think this borders on neglect; but we do what we think is best for our kids. Our youngest child with a Facebook identity is 16; we hold off on that as long as we can for lots of reasons. Many kids create them as part of a high school computer class and that was the case for a couple of our teens.

Why are we so strict, when lots of parents are setting up email accounts, and Facebook identities, for their kids as young as toddlers? Some of our kids have developmental and emotional deficits, which impair decision making. Some of our kids have people from their past, who know their names, and could locate them more easily if they were active on a social networking site. And some of them are just like many typical kids their age, who say and do dumb stuff, in what is a very public setting. On more than one occasion, I have had to give reminders about how public their information is. They sometimes say things out loud that I wouldn’t say in my head.

And what about those people from their past? Several of my kids have birth relatives who have contact with them on Facebook. Some of these are people I am very happy to have connected with my kids. And a couple are people I would rather they didn’t.

One birth parent found one of our kids on Facebook and communicated without our permission or knowledge. The teen kept it from us; it was a big secret for many months.

And no matter what our computer usage rules at home, kids have access to the internet just about anywhere. Our high school allows regular computer time on Facebook; there are libraries, community centres etc. Not to mention their friends with their own computers, phones, iPods, PSP’s with internet access. Let’s face it; the opportunities are boundless as soon as kids are out of sight.

So how do we manage this brave new world? It’s a challenge. There’s no simple solution. If anyone has it, let me know.