The drawer in the table next to the command chair in our family room contains at least 107 remote-control devices. OK, maybe not 107. Maybe it's more like eight, but whatever the exact number, when I open the drawer, it feels as if there are more than we need and certainly more than I know how to operate.
I can't watch a movie on our DVD player because I'm the one person in the house who doesn't know how it works. I can put a disc in it I have a college degree, after all but when I press “play” there's never a picture on the TV screen, only a bright blue background. No matter how many buttons I press or how many remote-control pads I try, I can never get the movie to play without enlisting help.
We have a PlayStation that I don't know how to use, though the children can make their fingers fly when using the hand-held controls to play games. We also own a karaoke machine that is easy for the children to set up, but I've never even tried. There are way too many cables and cords with colored tips, the ports for which remain a mystery to me.
Game Boy? Forget it.
I even had to ask my teenage daughters to teach me how to program my new cell phone and add numbers to my personal telephone directory. By the time they finished with it, they had changed my ring tone, added photos to my caller ID feature and changed my “wallpaper.”
Though my 8-year-old knows which buttons on the remote control will adjust the picture on our TV screen, and my teenage daughter instinctively knew how to use the digital camera she received for Christmas without ever reading the directions, I've decided I can live a long and happy life without mastering every gadget that comes in the door.
Sounds like I'm a little slow when it comes to riding the technology wave, doesn't it?
Not entirely. I'm actually the computer expert in my house, and for good reason.
The computer is the window to the world the “too much information” superhighway. I decided as a matter of policy that it was critical to my role as a well-informed mother to make sure I maintain “techno-parity” with my growing geeks. Whatever they learn about the computer, I learn, too.
This isn't easy because they have the advantage of a required computer course at school. I have had to master the computer and use of the Internet the old-fashioned way trial, error, the odd expletive, rebooting, unplugging, calling the tech-support people, calling back for a tech-support person who understands my dilemma and, finally, reading the directions.
Despite the challenges, I have managed to gain a fair amount of knowledge, and more than that, I have mastered the art of faking expertise. Truth be told, I may not know quite as much about this machine as they think I do. Nonetheless, whenever there's a problem, I'm the one they call, and I usually can answer their questions, which feeds the flame of my superiority.
This may sound like a mother's ego trip, but it's more than that (though heaven knows, the rewards of this job are not the ego-gratifying kind. We moms take what we can get).
No, the real reason I'm intent on maintaining my role as our family computer geek is to make sure we don't land among the 65% of parents and 64% of teens who believe most teenagers know how to do things online that their parents don't know about and wouldn't approve.
This was only one of the findings about teens and technology gleaned from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, an ongoing study about how the Internet impacts our daily existence.
Researchers also found that parents generally are less techno-savvy than their children. Am I the only one who sees the “cause and effect” thing here?
In my view, this research proves just how critical it is that parents have something we moms used to call “eyes in the back of our heads” but now refer to as “skills.”
Just how important is it that we get “skills” to supervise our children? This week a friend lamented that her inexperience with e-mail meant she was unaware that her daughter was engaged in a friendship struggle that had been playing out with the help of AOL a struggle that included a bullying message calling her daughter a “big meanie.”
Did I mention this was a friendship struggle among third-grade girls?
Obviously, all our technology is a good thing. It's even a good thing to have children who can put your movie in the DVD player and adjust the sound while you sit comfortably on the couch with the bowl of popcorn.
Then again, Internet technology is a bit like the ocean. It extends beyond the horizon, and it's filled with amazing things to do and discover, but it also must be respected for its unspeakable power. Just like at the ocean, I never let my children swim those waters unless I'm hovering nearby, guarding and protecting them against their own lack of experience and judgment.
Of course, it helps that I'm the stronger swimmer.
(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 18 years and mother of four children from third grade to junior year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at www.marybethhicks.com. This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)