What did parents do before computers?

I know, I know… before there were computers, there was TV… and before that Radio and before that… Dinosaurs and banging rocks together, right?

See, the reason I’m asking is that I feel guilty when I let Buttercup watch television.

Even if it’s educational TV like Sesame Street, and I know she’s learning something (and it’s amazing, she does learn from Sesame Street, I’ve watched it) I feel guilty. Yes, I always watch with her. Yes, I’m 100% aware of what is on there and I make parental choices. No adult television when the kidlet is around, with the occasional exception of a football game or very tame Food Network show.

It’s just that I grew up being inundated with the media message “watching television is bad for kids and you’re a bad parent if you don’t believe that.” Seriously. I mean, it’s been called the “boob tube” and the “vast wasteland” and there are 8 zillion and three articles on how television ruined the minds and imaginations of every generation since I Love Lucy… (Yeah, that’s a totally made up statistic. I love hyperbole.)

So deep down, I feel lousy every time the television goes on when my daughter is around.

But not so the computer.

Buttercup has had her own computer since before she could walk. As befits the child of geek parents, she’s had her own domain name since before she was born… registered once we decided what we wanted to name her and all.

Her computer sits at its own desk in our office… alongside GeekDaddy’s and mine… and is has a custom children’s keyboard and mouse perfect for little hands. This one to be precise:

buttercup’s keyboard and mouse

Buttercup has taken to computing like a fish to water. This is a happy making thing in our house.
It was a big day when she ‘got’ the mouse thing down. You probably don’t think about it, but developmentally, the concepts that moving something away from you translates as ‘up’ on a screen and toward you translates as ‘down’ and that what you do with your hand can impact that little arrow on the screen? Those are huge cognitive leaps.

Now, it’s aiding in her learning to read and spell before she’s even in Kindergarten. She takes pleasure in being able to type out her name on the keyboard – and in being able to read simple words that help her do what she wants to do in a given program. Sure – most of those programs involve princesses and children’s characters from *cough* TV shows – but there’s learning hidden in most of them. Math, reading, colors, shapes, file manipulation.

So when my darling daughter says “Mommy!! I wanna play on the computer now!” I don’t even feel a twinge as I do when she says “let’s watch a show…” Because no one has inundated me for more than 3 decades with how awful the computer must be for my child.

Yes, of course she likes to go out and play in the back yard, too. I’m only talking about the computer vs. the TV right now. It’s just that I can actually see the learning processes happening with the computer and so I think to myself “where is the equivalent of that prior to the advent of the PC?” Because while Sesame Street might teach her letters and numbers, the computer is also teaching her dexterity and hierarchical thinking.

GeekDaddy mentioned to me the other day something he observed. She was playing in MS Paint (yes, so sue me, it’s easier to clean up than real paint) and asked him how to ‘get a new picture’ – and he showed her File/New and off she went. Today, she asked me ‘what if I want to keep it?’ and I showed her File/Save and typing in a name (gibberish is just fine for that, y’know) and clicking on okay… and voila! Saved pictures of preschooler drawings of cats in snowglobes. (Yeeeeeah, I said she was getting the computer down, not necessarily turning into Van Gogh.)

So her little mind has already absorbed the underlying structure of most modern computer programs. She may not always get the days of the week in the right order (Tuesday and Wednesday are pesky, but she’s getting them) but she does know how to open programs using desktop icons, use the CD-Rom/DVD drive, use a browser, navigate thru links, open new files, save files, and alter tools inside of them. I think that’s more than my grandmother can do.

So do I feel guilty about letting her ‘play’ on the computer?

Well, duh. Of course I do to a point – or I wouldn’t have written this long justification for it, would I? I mean, I’ve just spent several paragraphs being defensive and yet self-righteous while extolling the virtues of something I’m doing. Doesn’t that just scream ‘in denial and feeling a tad guilty’? Yep. To me too.

So I’m feeling a little guilty – but it’s really cool at the same time. PC’s weren’t around when I was a kid. I had to learn all of this as an adolescent and even then, I was an adult before such a luxury as a mouse was accessible. I’m the product of the generation right *before* the revolution. I had Kermit and Big Bird teaching me to read and speak basic Spanish and all… but I didn’t even begin to dream of a world like my daughter faces. I can’t see how it can be a bad one – at least on that front.

So maybe a tad guilty, but also happy it exists for her and that I can help her to learn it.


~ by Lucretia on October 22, 2007.

One Response to “What did parents do before computers?”

  1. very interesting. i’m adding in RSS Reader

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