Liz Losh posts an interesting and sensible list of principles for raising children with technology. (I spent a few hours last weekend reading the equally sensible and logical Honey, We Lost the Kids: Re-thinking Childhood in the Multimedia Age by Kathleen McDonnell which I picked up at the local library).
The first three principles are most interesting –
1) Play with Your Child
Dr. Spock revolutionized child care a half-century ago by stating that the first rule to new parents should be “enjoy your baby.” With longer workdays for parents and ramped up expectations in school and society for kids, it can be easy to forget to play with them as they get older. Your personal preference may be to have your child cream you in chess rather than in a first-person shooter, but if you aren’t willing to play digitally, you are likely to be widening the generation gap. There are lots of good, less-publicized choices out there. Consider something like the award-winning, fun-for-all-ages game Cloud from students at USC and their faculty advisor Tracy Fullerton, which can be downloaded free online. If you are intimidated by videogames, consider other opportunities for creative play. For starters, you could have fun with music-making machines like Pâte à Son from le ciel est bleu or the Indian Shankar Drum Ganesh Machine, or a paint animation like Jackson Pollock by Miton Manetas.
2) Go Low Budget
You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on expensive controllers, games, and software for digital family fun. A megabucks game from a Hollywood franchise might not bring you any closer to your child. Instead, consider these four options.
A. Free open source software that lets your kids create games, animations, movies, and audio remixes like the 3-D modeling program Blender or the sound mixing program Audacity.
B. Free 30-day-trials of otherwise expensive corporate packages. Kids can make elaborate animated cartoons for the web and cell phones with Flash or make music with Sony Acid, although they may complain when the month is up.
C. For less than the cost of a typical sixty dollar game, your kids can make their own games. Quest Creator, RPG Maker, and — for the lover of virtual gore or mayhem — FPS Creator are all within most family budgets.
D. Check out what comes with the machine. For example, a lot of Macs come with the versatile program iMovie.
3) Bring Digital Politics to the Dinner Table
Talk to your kids about new laws that limit or may limit users’ digital rights. It’s important that they understand the basics of copyright law and why they can’t post their clever claymation video on YouTube or MySpace, if the soundtrack is a top ten hit owned by a megamedia company.
Luckily Creative Commons makes it possible for kids to find photos, sound samples, and film clips in the public domain. (Check out this video made by my thirteen-year-old to see an example.)
You might also want to point out how the arcane and obfuscatory language in user agreements can contain fine print that allows their personal information to be shared with third parties. Game playing devices can also store data from other software applications.