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(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.

Go straight to your chat room, young lady!

Go straight to your chat room, young lady! published on No Comments on Go straight to your chat room, young lady!

As a parent, I’m dazzled by the range of entertainment options my kids and I have. From the educational (I swear!) shows we have loaded up on PVR, to the educational (really!) kids’ apps on our iPhones, to the not-even-a-little-educational clips we watch on YouTube, we could easily while away every hour in a digital haze.

But there’s this whole other world out there of face-to-face interaction, fresh air, exercise and – loath though our children’s parents are to admit it – sleep. And when the time comes to power down the Wii and say goodbye to MySims Agents for another day, tantrums sometimes ensue… and the almighty power of parental discipline has to come into play.

Sometimes just counting sternly to five will do the job. Sometimes something more stringent is called for – like shelving a game for a few days. And sometimes, well, sometimes we’re groping for solutions, like generations of parents before us.

At least for the next few years, Alex and I are in the enviable position of knowing the tech better than our kids do. (We’re reasonably sure than when our then-two-year-old son locked Alex out of her iPhone, and created a ghost partition on our home server, it was random button-pressing at work.) Ask me in another decade, and you may hear a much different story.

With that, let me wish a very happy first birthday to my favourite budding little pair-coding team in the world, and to their parents who could single-handedly make geeky look cool (to me, anyway) all over again.

These teeny tiny plastic boots were made for walkin’

These teeny tiny plastic boots were made for walkin’ published on 7 Comments on These teeny tiny plastic boots were made for walkin’

October 26, 2010: WOW, that’s a lot of traffic today! Thanks for visiting and spreading the word, folks. As far as I can tell, this cartoon is either spreading by email, or was in someone’s (pretty large) email newsletter. Anybody know the source? I’d love to thank them.Oc

October 27, 2010: And the answer’s in. Commenter Patricia Washburn, below, explains the cartoon was posted to Systers, the legendary mailing list for women working on the tech side of computing, started by Anita Borg back in 1994. That couldn’t be more cool!

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, all. May all of our daughters grow up in a world of open doors.

Updated: And here’s the cartoon being drawn:

Updateder: And here’s the four-minute speeded-up version (maybe imagine Benny Hill music in the background):