“Kevin goes to bed about 11:00, unless he’s really tired, and then, still, it’s an electronic thing. His computer’s open, he’s been playing games. I mean, they’re doing so much living through computers, who’s to say it’s a bad thing because the way the world’s going, he and his sister both are able to do so many things so rapidly, the multitasking in electronics. It’s frustrating. We’ll go on a computer site or a forum, and I’ll try to fill it out, and they’ll just take the keyboard away. I’m not computer-illiterate, but I’m just not as fast as they are.”
Do they worry that Kevin’s computer multitasking could cause ADHD — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?
“I think it’s too soon to tell. What they’re creating is a whole new way of living. We already know that kids today coming out of school aren’t expected to last three years at a job. They move on, rapidly. Whereas most of us strive to last about ten years. It is change. Evolutionary change.”
How would they know if Kevin was getting into weird stuff online?
“What I don’t know is what he does on there when he’s talking. His best friend’s parents monitor their son’s text, incoming and outgoing, his cell phone calls, emails, and websites that he visits on his computer. They have some kind of spy apparatus, and he knows. Kevin came to me one day and told me. And I said, ‘What do you think about that? Do you think that we should vet you?’ And he said, ‘Oh, no. I’d hate that.’ And I said, ‘Honesty is the way that you avoid that.’ But the truth is that every parent has to deal with this. How much do you [spy on them]?”
Don’t you ever want to drag him out into the sunshine, into the real world outside?
Joanie, Harold’s wife: “When I was young, my parents said, ‘Out. Out!’ You didn’t stay in the house. And you only came in when they called you for dinner. And in the summertime when they called you for bed. This was Canada. It was, like, ‘Please, can we come in, we’re frozen!’ And it was ‘No. Stay out there and play. Play!’ That’s the way it really was. We played with our friends. We imagined things. We lived in row houses, and we all shared the same back yard, a big square, and we just played and we talked. We pretended we had horses, we pretended we were princesses.”
“I had an idyllic childhood,” says Harold. “We lived in San Bernardino in one of the valleys. We went to Big Bear every holiday, tobogganing, ice-skating. We had horses. We’d play cowboys and Indians. I grew up with livestock, and it was physical and full of smells and people and nature. I was in the 4H club and raised livestock, and we’d get the blue ribbon. Then my dad would butcher them and we’d have steaks all winter. I rode my horse to school for a couple of years. It was way different than Kevin’s electronic-proxy world. On the other hand, I was terribly lonely. I was an only child, and sickly.”
Are there things your kids learn from you, rather than the internet?
“Just like every loving parent, we try hard to give our kids exposure to the right things: to truth, to communication, to love, to faith…
but there comes a point where they just throw up the wall. Maybe they’re still listening, so we keep saying it. But they don’t act like they’re listening. So, I don’t want it to sound like we completely condone the digital experience in place of other life experiences, like being outdoors.”
Will Kevin share his electronic social world with you?
“I’ll sit down next to him and try to look at what he’s doing, and he’ll click his space bar or something.”
But when does he have time for you?
“Indeed. You’ve got to figure, there’s so much time in the day, and you add up the number of minutes that he spends talking to his mother and talking to his father, petting the cat, eating, sleeping, and on the computer. Who’s going to win that? The computer wins.”
Will you ask Kevin to do, for example, kitchen chores?
“Sure. If he hears you, he’ll come and do it on the third time. But he usually has [earphones] on. Yes, he’ll do that stuff if you ask him to. But does he see it? No. The other day I had to yell across the street in the morning when he was going to school. I said, ‘Come back. There are nine lights and a TV on down here. Turn them off.’ ”
But what does a father teach his son?
“We did have a kind of a physical experience. We went skiing last year. He had never skied before. So we took him and his sister. And his sister right away took her skis off and went back to the condo and had Ovaltine with Mom, where Kevin and I — I just said, ‘Come on, I’m going to enroll you in a lesson.’ And Kevin says, ‘I really don’t want to do that, Dad.’ And then he said, ‘Can’t you just teach me?’
“And I have to tell you, that was kind of an emotional moment. My first thought was, ‘Gosh. He actually needs me.’ He really wanted me to do a one-on-one. How neat is that? And then my second thought was, ‘Oh, God, do I remember how to ski?’ Because it had been years.
“So we went to the bunny slope and spent about a half-hour. I gave him some lessons, stem-christies, weighting the downhill ski, and basically turning to stop, and look for the idiot coming down at 90 mph before you cross [a slope]. And then right away, like a half-hour in, he asked, ‘Can I go up the mountain?’ And I thought, ‘Oh, God, Kevin’s going to break his legs; Joanie’s going to be pissed.’ So we went up the ski lift, and that’s how it started. And before the half-day was gone, he was on some pretty serious runs. It was just amazing for me to watch him. The whole experience was great. He asked me to help. And he listened to what I had to say. That was cool. He wants to do it again.”