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Making allowances

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“Here’s your allowance: 150 lucky coins for Angry Birds Epic, 10 jewels for Playmobil Pirates, and a box of keys for Farmville. Oh, and a ten-dollar bill.” Kid stares at ten-dollar bill: “What the heck do I do with this?”

Okay, we’re not quite there yet. But I give it five years before you start hearing business updates on the news about how Gems are trading against Gold Coins.

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I drew this and six other cartoons about parents, kids and tech for Alexandra Samuel’s session at SXSW 2016, The Myth of the Family Tech Market. It’s based on her two-year study of how more than 10,000 North American parents manage their kids’ interactions with digital technology.

Find out more about Alex’s work around digital parenting here.

Drop the Playstation Vita and back away

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It’s amazing the stuff that gets into your house despite your best efforts to shape the influences in your kids’ lives. Barbies. Disney. Pokémon. Tambourines.

When my kids were younger, the main vector was well-meaning relatives giving presents. But now that they have a social circle, it’s their friends who act as the conduit for all that’s awful, counter to our values or just unhelpful. Thanks for bringing that Nintendo 3DS over, Miles. Thanks a crapload.

And the truth is, you can’t shield your kids completely, and you can’t shield them forever. Your best, most durable hope is to instill strong values and foster a rapier capacity for media criticism.

And maybe install one of those TSA body scanners at your front door.

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I drew this and six other cartoons about parents, kids and tech for Alexandra Samuel’s session at SXSW 2016, The Myth of the Family Tech Market. It’s based on her two-year study of how more than 10,000 North American parents manage their kids’ interactions with digital technology.

Find out more about Alex’s work around digital parenting here.

Would you code it in the rain? Would you code it on a train?

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Commodore PETI love the mania today for teaching kids to code. I’m glad it’s a lot easier than it was when I first started stringing commands together.

When computers (in the form of the venerable Commodore PET) first came to Gloucester High School, I got the impression most of my teachers were scrambling to stay ahead of the geekier students, learning various BASIC commands a few days (or hours) before the more highly-motivated among us did.

I mostly learned it on my own time: staying very late at the school, worrying the hell out of my parents, entering line after line of code from magazines, and then tinkering with it to see what would change. Nearly everyone I know thought it was a little freakish of me. But something about this seemed incredibly compelling, even important—despite the fact that mostly what I was keying in were instructions for playing Hammurabi (“I beg to report to you, in the year 3, 0 people starved, 6 came to the city…”).

But something sticks with me from my Grade 10 Informatics class: a transparency my teacher threw onto the overhead projector that read “The man who knows how will have a job. The man who knows why will be his boss.”

(Okay, two things stick with me, and one of them is just how casual the exclusion of women from language was when I was a kid. )

Coding is very much a how activity. And I think it’s good to get some of that knowledge under your belt, and to understand the core concepts beneath it. If you’re into it, great; go a lot further.

But as Jeff Atwood wrote a few months ago, people drive cars all the time without knowing how fuel injection works; “By teaching low-level coding, I worry that we are effectively teaching our children the art of automobile repair.”

Learning to talk to the computer is the easiest part. Computers, for better or worse, do exactly what you tell them to do, every time, in exactly the same way. The people – well . . . you’ll spend the rest of your life figuring that out. And from my perspective, the sooner you start, the better.

I want my children to understand how the Internet works. But this depends more on their acquisition of higher-order thinking than it does their understanding if ones and zeroes. It is essential that they that treat everything they read online critically. Where did that Wikipedia page come from? Who wrote it? What is their background? What are their sources?

Learn to investigate. Be critical. Don’t just accept opinions you saw on Facebook or some random web page. Ask for credible data, facts and science.

That, to my mind, helps to get at the why. And with all due respect to my Informatics teacher, that goes a lot further than who gets the corner office. It’s part of being a citizen: not just in the formal sense, and not even just in the civic sense, but in the sense of someone who participates in the world around them – on- and offline – and helps in some small way to shape it.

Teaching our kids about variable scope in Java? That helps them become programmers. Helping them with the “why” – that helps them become adults.

(Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr)

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I drew this and six other cartoons about parents, kids and tech for Alexandra Samuel’s session at SXSW 2016, The Myth of the Family Tech Market. It’s based on her two-year study of how more than 10,000 North American parents manage their kids’ interactions with digital technology.

Find out more about Alex’s work around digital parenting here.

+3 charisma, +5 combat, -4 academics

+3 charisma, +5 combat, -4 academics published on No Comments on +3 charisma, +5 combat, -4 academicsPurchase print

When you think about it, doesn’t a really effective guild leader have many of the skills and attributes a good college or university ought to be looking for?

BTW, as I was devising witty banter about how the character sheet should become the new academic transcript, I came across two actual cases of video-gaming scholarships. Okay, so eSports are no threat to the supremacy of the football or basketball scholarship yet. That day could come.

And when it does, I hope it has absolutely nothing to do with the NCAA.

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I drew this and six other cartoons about parents, kids and tech for Alexandra Samuel’s session at SXSW 2016, The Myth of the Family Tech Market. It’s based on her two-year study of how more than 10,000 North American parents manage their kids’ interactions with digital technology.

Find out more about Alex’s work around digital parenting here.

Grounded

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There’s a lot of debate, for good reasons, around imposing consequences when kids’ behaviour doesn’t meet parents’ expectations. And when it comes to restricting their access to digital tech, there’s an added wrinkle: our kids may be able to circumvent them.

Sometimes it’s ingenuity on their part. Necessity is the mother of invention, and heaven help the obstacles placed between a child and their Minecraft time. Sometimes it’s just parental sleep-deprivation-induced stupidity… like the time I muttered my iPhone passcode out loud while unlocking the device for my son.

But I can already see that a third factor will soon come into play: the kids just plain knowing more than I do. This whole push to teach kids to code sounds like a great idea until your child roots your laptop from their Speak ‘n’ Spell.

I know, I know: we’re all supposed to be raising our kids in rural communes, and the only “devices” they should ever need are a butter churn and a sheep shear. But I’m more from the parenting school where the only response I expect to “Fetch me the switch” is “16- or 24-port?”

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I drew this and six other cartoons about parents, kids and tech for Alexandra Samuel’s session at SXSW 2016, The Myth of the Family Tech Market. It’s based on her two-year study of how more than 10,000 North American parents manage their kids’ interactions with digital technology.

Find out more about Alex’s work around digital parenting here.

And once you add in our 14-year-old’s ransomware revenue…

And once you add in our 14-year-old’s ransomware revenue… published on No Comments on And once you add in our 14-year-old’s ransomware revenue…Purchase print

Maybe the new “My child is an honour student” bumper sticker reads “My kid charted in the App Store’s Lifestyle category”.

And maybe the new RRSP (or “IRA” for my American friends) is investing in coding lessons for your kids in the hopes that their royalties will allow you to retire sometime before the age of 80.

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I drew this and six other cartoons about parents, kids and tech for Alexandra Samuel’s session at SXSW 2016, The Myth of the Family Tech Market. It’s based on her two-year study of how more than 10,000 North American parents manage their kids’ interactions with digital technology.

Find out more about Alex’s work around digital parenting here.

(parent to child) Sure, it starts with having your own phone. But soon you're on 4chan, playing the Knockout Game and recruiting other kids for ISIS.

Even worse, it leads to in-app purchases

Even worse, it leads to in-app purchases published on No Comments on Even worse, it leads to in-app purchases

Skim the media headlines, and there seem to be only two possibilities when it comes to parents, kids and technology. Either

  1. Parents should shield their kids from all screens until the age of 30, lest they become distracted, lazy and incapable of forming memories more complex than a 140-character message. Or,
  2. Learning to code will solve everything from youth homelessness to the mumps.

(Bonus points if you can find a writer whose byline has appeared under both kinds of headline.)

The myth of the Family Tech MarketMy wife Alexandra Samuel has studied the way parents tackle their kids’ relationship with technology over several years now. Her two-year study of more than 10,000 North American parents has some fascinating findings that she covered at South by Southwest, in a session dubbed The Myth of the Family Tech Market.

Alex has found that parents tend to fall into one of three broad groups: limiters, who try to minimize their kids’ use of technology; enablers, who give their kids more or less free rein when it comes to screens and devices; and mentors, who take an active role in guiding their kids onto the Internet. (Here’s a handy overview.)

I drew seven new cartoons about parenting in the digital age for her presentation. Drawing is easy; digital parenting is hard &emdash; we’ve found it tremendously challenging with our own kids. Parents have to sift through mountains of wildly conflicting opinions, suggestions, warnings and prescriptions. And there are plenty of people ready to condemn you loudly and publicly for whatever technology choices you end up making.

So I hope it’s clear these cartoons are meant with a lot of love. Parents are making hard choices every day based on incomplete information, being pulled in eighty different directions by people trying to sell them a product, a service or an ideology… and we’re expected to do it with confidence and certainty.

The truth is, confidence is in scarce supply and certainty is just plain dangerous. We’re all stumbling through this, and a little compassion and mutual respect around conflicting choices will go a long way.

You two have to find a better way to communicate than open letters on Medium.

Open season on open letters

Open season on open letters published on No Comments on Open season on open letters

I’m in no position to dump on people for posting open letters. I posted a kind of manifesto (the open letter’s cousin who never acknowledges it at family reunions) yesterday to my blog. (If you’re interested, it’s The Presentation Audience’s Bill of Rights.)

But there sure seem to be a lot of open letters out there, and Medium is the place to post them. Open letters to Twitter, to millennials, to CEOs, to mayors, to fans, even just to people looking for love.

And on their heels—because everything online phenomenon has to spawn its own immediate metashadow—are open letters about open letters.

Many of these letters say a lot more about the people who write them than about the addressees, in ways the writers probably didn’t expect—hello, Tech Bro! Sometimes the brilliant rant that seemed so clever when you pushed “Publish” at 2:30 am suddenly reads as horrifically mean-spirited at 9:00 am over coffee.

Anyway, if you’re writing an open letter trashing someone or some class of people, and you don’t want to be the next mascot for coldhearted pettiness, here’s my advice:

  • If you’re replying to another open letter, read it. Really read it. Too many open reply writers seem to be strip-mining their source material for vulnerabilities, and ignoring the context around them.
  • Put yourself in the position of the people you’re addressing. (And that doesn’t mean replying in a snide, high-pitched voice while rolling your eyes.) Dig deep for your most compassionate self, and try to make their case as best you can. Now reread your letter, and rewrite it.
  • Make it clear to whom you’re addressing it. And don’t address an open letter to a lazy stereotype, like “millennials”, and then go railing against their sense of entitlement, despite the fact that they’re a very diverse group of people facing some of the most daunting…
    …—dammit, I feel an open letter coming on.

One last tip for everyone writing these things: you want it to really be open? Use a Creative Commons license. Let people share it.

And good luck, Talia Jane.

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