What I Knew All Along

As most of you know, I am the mother of three awesome teenagers. My daughter is a sophomore in college; my middle child is a senior in high school, and my youngest is a freshman. I’ll throw my husband in the story, since he’s a kid at heart. Anyway, ever since I’ve been married, we’ve always had video game systems in the house. My husband bought Sega Genesis in 1991, and a couple of years later, a Sony Playstation. Since then, we’ve upgraded to Sony Playstation II, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo Game Cube, X-Box 360, and Wii. There were also a few handhelds along the way as well. All these gaming systems, even the old ones are still operational. To say my children grew up playing video games is an understatement. When I was a young mother, studying to be a teacher, I got a lot of flack from my conservative mother friends for facilitating what was seen as the demise of my children. In the 90’s, the view was that video games were bad for children. They were too violent, too mature, and very anti-social. I guess I’m kind of a non-conformist, but I never really headed the advice of my friends and the media. I never really restricted my children from playing games because my observation about my own family was quite different than what I was hearing others say. These were my obeservations which convinced me that video games were good for our family:

Family bonding – my husband and my sons played together; they picked out the games, discussed the features, and spend a great deal of time laying on the family room floor with controllers in their hands – it’s the “together” part that seemed like it could only have a positive outcome.

More family bonding – my daughter who is outnumbered by the men in our family, has been known to actually be civil to her brothers on occasion – usually when they are playing video games.

Socializing – from the time my youngest could grasp an object, he had a game controller in his. His older brother would talk him through the process of finding a treasure, moving through the paths, slaying animated villians, and getting to the next level. Later, when my youngest was around 3, he was able to master games and he was the one explaining strategies to his then 6 year old brother. It was around that time that playdates emerged, and when the games were being played, they were always being played by several kids. From the next room, I could always hear non-stop chatter, yelling, cheering, booing….but never the silence of solitary play. “Video games make children anti-social,” my friends would say. Not in my house!

The development of higher level thinking skills – I will never forget something my older son said when he was around 10 about his younger brother who was around 7. “Only buy sports games. Rent adventure games – ‘cuz he’s at games where he has to figure stuff out – way better than me. He beats the games a few days after he starts playing them.”

Risking exposure to unscrupulous characters when they play online – The first time my older son played a game online, it was Madden (who knows what year) Football. He used a headset so he could interact with other players. In the middle of the game, he took his headset off with one hand and flung it to one side, still maintaining his concentration on the TV and his controller. When I asked him later about the headset he said, “I was playing with some “old man” (probably in his 20’s) and I was kicking his butt. I didn’t want to hear him swearing at me no more.” Ok…good choice. Since then, most of their online games are with offline friends who are across town, or across the hall in the dorm.

No impact on violent behavior – After a long news report about Columbine: “Mom,” my oldest son states when he was about 10, “I shoot video game guns with my thumbs, aiming at the television set. How does that teach me how to shoot a real gun with a trigger and want to kill my classmates?”

My kids are big now – really past the stage where my husband and I have much input on their gaming. I’m not the perfect mom, but to those way conservative parents who made me feel guilty, have you read this? I’m happy to report that my children are non-violent, well adjusted, honor-roll students, who have varied interests in sports and music and they all have dozens of friends. That is all.

Don’t Blame Mr. Rogers

Recently my husband came home from work very excited because he attended an online workshop about the differing perspectives of the last generation, our generation, and the “millennials” – our kids. He was very enthusiastic about what he learned, particularly since we have three children that will be entering the workforce in the next several years (at various stages). Young adults are very different than baby boomers in their motivation and they bring something special to the workplace. It’s important for business leaders to know that young adults had a very balanced view of work and family, focusing on happiness in life over staying in a job just for the money. Family life is quite different for our childrenĀ  and the typical suburban way of life impacts who they are and what they expect. Here’s a few comparisons that my husband and I made:

  • Organized sports where snacks were served at every game, and all parents attended (for better or worse) every game
  • Lots of opportunities for parents to be involved by attending scout camp-outs, coaching, volunteering in the classroom, and hosting organized play-dates
  • Certificates and trophies just for participating – Who remembers what the win/loss records are?
  • Open house at the high school where we followed our child’s schedule and met every teacher. (Did our parents even know what classes we took in high school?)
  • Online communication where we can check grades – and drive our kids’ teachers nuts with inquiries and editorial comments.
  • Because we have to keep better tabs on our teenagers than our parents did, we probably have closer relationships with their friends and their parents
  • School is different – kids work together more and (at least our kids) tend to hang out in enormous, ever shifting groups

We as their parents “indoctrinated” them with views about themselves and the world that make them see things differently. It’s not better or worse; it’s just different. The recent feature on 60 minutes about millennials didn’t bother me when first I saw it. After reading the blog post by Sylvia Martinez, I took another look. Upon further review, Morely Safer really came off as an out-of-touch-old-fogey! Not much focus was made to the fact that these young people are very hard working, self-motivated, particularly collaborative, and very attentive to their families. They have a need to click with their supervisors and work to build trusting relationships with the people in their organizations. Their technical abilities are unsurpassed and are very comfortable with learning new things and applying their knowledge. That’s what business leaders need to know. These young people focus on happiness and trusting relationships in the workplace. If they aren’t happy – they’ll go somewhere where they will be happy. If they can’t trust their boss, they’ll look for a new boss. Gone are the days when people worked for the same company for 20 years regardless of burn-out and dissatisfaction.

They are not “unprepared” to function in the workforce,” as Morley Safer called them. Business leaders are unprepared to work with those whose perspective is different than their own. It’s almost comical that so many 50 year olds have to hire expensive consultants to help them figure out what to do about the young adults – who are actually their children’s generation. We created them. Why are they so hard to understand?

Project of Love

projectorMy youngest son is graduating from 8th grade this month. He is graduating from the school I worked at as a tech coordinator/computer teacher for 6 years. His class is full of really awesome young people that I enjoyed teaching and miss very much. I have the privilege of working with some of their moms on a special project these past few weeks. Every year, for as long as anyone can remember, the parents of the graduating class put together a slide show of pictures from 11 years of their lives, starting with pre-school. I can only imagine what the slide show must have been like back in the days of slide projectors and carousels.

My first experience with this project was several years ago, when my daughter, who is a sophomore in college, was in 8th grade. Another mom who was also an ambitious techy, and I were co-chairs for the slide show committee. Before her and I took on the task, computer created slide shows were left up to the professionals. She proposed we save some money and make the video ourselves. With a purchase of a G4 PowerMac and a day spent learning the “brand new” iMovie application, we were on our way. The process was grueling. We had to sift through over 1000 pictures, scan several hundred of them, pick themes, music, and then use this unfamiliar application to put it all together. The whole process was quite an adventure. The parent group was extremely engaged and willing to work tirelessly, but most of the editing was left up to me, since I had the most time and inclination to learn the program. I learned a lot during those few weeks, not only about iMovie, but about perseverance, problem solving, collaboration and creativity. I am certain that those sleepless nights hunched over the keyboard staring at the screen with a cranky computer made me a better technology teacher, practicing skills that I know are so important for my students.

Two years later, it was time to co-chair the slide show for my middle son. My family threatened to commit me to a rubber room – remembering the extraordinary time commitment. This time it went a little better. The committee was way sillier, making our time together a lot of fun – (working hard at the meeting, indeed). Some of the pictures were coming in on disc, so much less scanning was needed. iMovie had a few updates, so crashes happened less often. I still spent several hours bonding with iMovie and an eMac, but the results were beautiful and I felt like we really outdid ourselves.

Now, I’m working on my last 8th grade video. Technically, it has gotten much easier. Everyone has a digital camera, and iMovie and iDVD are “wicked fast”. My husband is teasing me that this the last time I’ll be on a committee that meets once a week to agonize over 600 pictures and song lyrics from every song produced since the ’70’s. He gets irritated when I’m hunched over my computer (MacBook this time) working on the slide show for hours at a time. Thankfully, the bulk of the editing is done by another mom who is just as obsessively techy. I tried to explain to him that it’s not about the debate over this picture or that, or using a certain song during a certain section. We are not spending hours trying to perfect a 30 minute video that the kids are probably only going to look at once for our own egos. This project means much more to us.

We spend hours in meetings pouring over pictures and listening to song lyrics, and more hours putting it all together because we care about the story. This video is the story of the kids that spent almost their entire lives together. We understand how much it means to the graduates and their parents to see the recap of important events like first days, first best friends, first communion, and first crushes. We try very hard to represent the children and the school in a way that reflects the love that surrounds them. We do crazy stuff like count every child so they are in the video in almost equal number – taking pictures at school at the last minute to make up for the under-represented. We watch sections several times to make sure the song enhances the images. We edit and re-edit the video to eliminate tiny glitches that only we will notice. We burn the DVDs and wrap them in fancy paper like it’s the most important gift we’ve ever given. It’s hard to explain how compelling it is to be involved in telling this story, until the night of the Graduation dinner, when the lights go down, the projector turns on and the 80 kids excitedly drag their chairs over in a huge clump in anticipation for an event that has become a tradition. It’s not about the technology, the meetings, or the hard work….it’s about the story.

Congratulations class of 2008!