My kids are so lucky. Not only because they have my husband and me as parents (ha), but because they have the luxury of all their immediate family members within driving distance. Grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles are around for family gatherings, holidays and birthday celebrations. Certainly a luxury I didn’t grow up with.
My nuclear family consisted of my parents and sister and me, but the rest of my extended family resided in Seoul, South Korea allowing for once-a-year visits to our house (if that) and infrequent phone conversations. I vividly recall the practice of dialing a bunch of numbers, waiting for an operator to patch us through and then trying to decipher the few Korean words I understood through a very scratchy connection.
Boy times have changed.
Although both my husband’s and my families live nearby, we aren’t actually able to see each other very frequently. Between after school activities and back-to-back sports on the weekends, we are not able to take advantage of their proximity as much as we’d like to. But that’s where technology comes into play very nicely.
Thanks to the magic of tech essentials like FaceTime, Skype, and WhatsApp, the kids are able to see and communicate with their grandparents several times a week, show off the latest musical masterpieces they’re working on, the school project on Barack Obama, the front teeth finally growing in, and so much more. The familiar ring of FaceTime has become gospel in our house, with the kids running to answer the phone and give updates on how their days are going.
And I know that the joy is reciprocated on the other end as well. The grandparents love participating in the kids’ daily lives, even the mundane, “What are you having for dinner?” conversations.
It’s funny because as of Christmas 2013, my parents had no “i” devices—email and Google searches were just about the extent of their tech knowledge. But a gift of an iPod Touch for the holidays was the catalyst for their tech immersion and adoption, one that my sister and I never expected. Our original intent was to create a digital repository of all their music but never did we think that they’d become so adept with the other tech features the iPod has to offer. These are people who turn off their cell phones to save battery life after they call us, so can you blame us?
My mom, in particular, was just in awe of the technology that was available to her. Speaking commands to Google, finding old French chansons on YouTube, and most excitingly, FaceTime-ing with the grand-kids made them instant converts. She now responds to texts faster than a teenager and makes very good use of the world of emoticons available to her. And this is where technology has become a real blessing.
Because of FaceTime, the kids are able to talk to their grandparents several times a week. Because of Instagram, I’m able to see photos of my cousin’s newborn baby every day. Because of WhatsApp, the kids are able to leave audio messages—for free—to their far-away second cousins and great aunts.
As someone who writes about technology and is immersed in it myself, I often struggle with how to integrate technology into my kids’ lives in a safe and healthy way. It will still be a while before my kids own their own “i” devices and an even longer while before they’re telling me about the latest apps du jour that they’re using with their friends. Before that stage of digital parenting comes into play, I will continue to wholeheartedly embrace this kind of technology for making connections with family that will last a lifetime.
Jeana Lee Tahnk, the Top Tech Mom, is an experienced, reliable, trustworthy source to guide parents on the top products and safest ways to integrate technology into their families’ lives. As a mom of three herself, she is also navigating a new world of parenting and wants to share her knowledge with curious parents. She is a regular contributor to Mashable, The Huffington Post, and Parenting.com, and has shared her tech commentary in The New York Times, NPR, CBC Radio, as well as NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates around the country.
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