Three PDX metro area families, three different plans for the technology age.
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
So, let’s see. There’s Facebook, of course. YouTube. Instagram. Pinterest. Snapchat. Google Plus. Slack. Vine. Twitter. Periscope. LinkedIn. Zillions of apps, good old-fashioned email and the Internet. Plus the 30 other new social networking channels that were no doubt introduced in between our press deadline and when this issue hits the stands. And to consume all this? There are mobile phones and tablets, laptops and desktops, watches and virtual reality goggles. And we haven’t even gotten to television, movies, magazines, newspapers and — last, but most definitely not least — books.
That’s quite the technology overload for most families in 2016. And for as many different choices as there are vying for your — and your kid’s — attention, there are different approaches to dealing with the media landscape. Our writer talked to three very different PDX-area families to find out more about the paths they’ve chosen in our always-connected world.
Early childhood educator Dre Davey, a mother of three who runs Little Root Playgarden out of her North Portland home, has parented in two eras — first in her early 20s as a working single mother of a baby boy, and now again more than a decade later as a married woman with two young girls born 22 months apart.
So it’s not terribly surprising that her son grew up with some amount of television as she hurried from her job to housework. But when her daughters came along, Davey decided on a more “intentional” approach to screen time.
“[When her older daughter was a toddler] self regulation — the inability to transition, tantruming when things didn’t go her way — was more escalated with screen time, even an Elmo video,” she says. “We got to a point where she was upset about something and she said, ‘The only thing that will make me feel better is to watch a show.’ So she was starting to see it as a way to feel calm, and I want to teach her ways to self-calm.”
“We got to a point where she was upset about something and she said, ‘The only thing that will make me feel better is to watch a show.'”
Today her son, who is 20, is out of the house while her daughters, who are almost 9 and 7, are at an age when their friends are not only watching TV and playing video games but getting their own tablets, too, and she’s decided to put her foot down. While her kids can earn up to 20 minutes of screen time a week through certain responsibilities, such as feeding the dog, making the bed, and clearing the table after dinner, the family’s only TV is in storage and she and her husband primarily use their two laptops and smartphones for work after the girls have gone to bed.
Davey hasn’t seen much pushback from her daughters yet. And she says neither of her girls has ever uttered the words “I’m bored.” Their days are packed as it is with long walks, playing with the neighbors, doing arts and crafts, and just being present with one another. Her husband takes the girls to the library on Saturdays, where they exchange bags of books, and every night they read their girls to sleep on one end of the open attic where they, too, will later fall asleep screen-free. Their house is full of cubbies for the Little Root students, stocked with wooden toys; outside, there are vegetable beds in the garden.
Davey doesn’t worry about whether her daughters will fall behind their peers in computer literacy. “Technology is so intuitive, and that’s only growing,” she says, pointing out how she’s never taken a class yet has built her own website and navigates social media. To her, it is “mind-boggling” that kids average between three and seven hours of screen time every day, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“What are we taking away from them by giving them this?” she asks. “Often it is the ability to be still with ourselves and still be okay … And there’s beauty in boredom. Creativity is often birthed out of boredom. So what’s the thing that’s around the corner?” In the absence of distractions, she adds, “You get to think about that.”
Read more of Dre’s thoughts on living a low-media life at: littlerootchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/top-5-reasons-to-go-slow-media.html?m=1
Memorializing the little things
When Lauren Hartmann was pregnant with her first child in 2011, she didn’t know much about Instagram, which launched in late 2010. In fact she thought it was a photo editing app, so she started playing around. Then her friends began to find her, and hashtags pulled strangers in. She even started her own, #parentingforreal, as a reflection of the authenticity she tries to maintain online.
Now Hartmann, whose income primarily comes from blogging about motherhood for sites like Babble, and her husband Craig, a buyer for Bob’s Red Mill, are expecting their third child, Alice, in May, and life with the constantly-twirling 4-year-old Fern and super-huggy 1.5-year-old Clive includes a once-every-other-day post to her profile, TheLittleThingsWeDo, on Instagram and a couple-times-a-month blog post to LaurenHartmann.com.
“I sort of just fell into it,” she confesses as she puts away groceries in her kitchen. “It’s a memory book for me.”
In the past four years Hartmann has amassed an unexpected following as fellow parents stumbled upon her stark photos and sweet but honest captions. More than 12,000 followers can now watch her kids grow up — a number that doesn’t scare her, but does prompt caution.
“When people started following me, my mind was blown — people I don’t know actually read this!” she says in the kitchen of her ranch-style house in the shadows of giant Douglas Firs in a southern PDX suburb. “It’s not polished and perfect. People don’t come to my blog for the fancy photos. I want it to be real motherhood.”
Hartmann says the growth of her following has been gradual, with a few bumps in numbers here and there when her Instagram was mentioned on BuzzFeed. And like most moms with large followings, she does make money off the occasional sponsored Instagram post — typically $100 to $200 for including a product she genuinely likes.
Her daughter Fern is already getting used to being photographed and sometimes even poses. Hartmann tells her it’s for work and Fern usually obliges quickly. But the vast majority of her posts are unstaged and unpaid, instead revealing little snippets of the profound challenges and utter joys of parenthood.
In a video posted around Christmas, Hartmann opens a wrapped gift, pulls out a onesie, and breaks into a huge smile as she watches Fern dance around the room with it yelling, “It’s pink!” Her gender reveal has more than 600 likes.
In another post she shows her kids taking a bubble bath and writes that they are both sick and one of them woke 20 times over the night: “I had a meltdown this morning around 5:00 AM, dissolved in a heap of tears and feeling really sorry for myself…. My tears were justified, but what I really needed was to dust myself off and find joy. Some days it is more elusive than others, but it is always there. That blondie boy in all his mischief and that curly-haired girl with the tender heart and constant “I love yous”…they are part of my beautiful life that is begging to be lived. They are waiting for me to notice them and take delight in them.”
The comments range from “totally needed this” and “at least we’re all in this crazy thing together” to “thank you for your thoughts in the mass of all the mamas that always ‘look’ like they have everything together on Instagram.” This kind of baring all may not be for everyone, but the instant, far-reaching, emoji-filled support helps Hartmann feel like she is part of something bigger.
Speaking in code
Walk into 15-year-old Amelia Kawasaki’s Portland home in the West Hills and there’s not a screen to be seen. To the left, an upright piano, a concert pedal harp made in 1963, and a Celtic lever harp are the gorgeous centerpieces of a living room; to the right, two 9- and 11-pound Cavalier King Charles Spaniels bounce around the kitchen and sitting room.
But look closer and you’ll find a Macbook Air and receiver acting as a stereo system in the sitting room. Venture into the home offices of Amelia’s parents — her father Charlie Kawasaki is a self described “innovation junkie” who has worked as a software engineer and consultant at various firms over the past 35 years, while her mother has been with HP for 25 — and you’ll find laptops, servers, printers, tablets, smartphones, and more.
In her own bedroom Amelia, a sophomore at Lincoln, has an HP tablet, Amazon Kindle Fire, and Samsung Galaxy 6, plus the portable CTL Chromebook she takes to school for homework and the CTL Intel NUC she takes to her internship at a Portland tech firm, where she’s working on the development of a cyber security product. Sometimes — and this has taken her parents some getting used to — Amelia gets home from school via Uber. Oh, and all three have polished profiles on LinkedIn.
But make no mistake: Her family may be on the high end of the digital media scale, but this savvy teenager is no mere consumer of content. After first exhibiting a real aptitude for computers at Portland’s App Camp for Girls at age 12, Amelia is now the president of Lincoln’s coding club and has completed a Portland State University internship that involved improving the curriculum of a graduate course in malware analysis.
Between homework and coding she’s so busy that she hardly has much time for hobbies outside of the harp — “I had to stop piano, which is sad,” she says — but she also feels lucky to have already found something at which she both enjoys and excels.
“I didn’t push her super hard or anything,” her father says, though he admits that his own love of computers surely plays some role in his daughter’s. He did, after all, teach an intro to computers segment to Amelia’s first grade class, and he now posts what he calls his “Geek Dad Moment of Pride” on Facebook.
The whole family is already seeing the advantages Amelia has to being a girl so involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects. “I am almost always the only girl,” Amelia says of her activities.
In one such post he wrote that his daughter had texted him “asking if her NUC has VT-x on it,” and then he asked his followers if they got it. A few laughed. Most were clueless. (For the clueless: A NUC is a new class of computer under development at Intel that is very tiny, but very powerful. VT-x is a technology that improves performance and security of virtual machines.) And while this makes Charlie beam with pride, speaking in code with his daughter also provides another realm where they can engage meaningfully.
“They’re just tools,” he says. “And it’s the tool of the modern era. Even in jobs that at one time weren’t considered technology related, let’s say manufacturing or the post office … I wouldn’t trivialize [the concerns about too much screen time], but I think that’s something you manage.”
The whole family is already seeing the advantages Amelia has to being a girl so involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects. “I am almost always the only girl,” Amelia says of her activities. It’s not lost on her that this may soon help with college and job prospects.
At the end of the day, though, Amelia says it’s pretty simple: She just likes the work. “Computers and math weren’t my strong suit when I was younger — it was reading and art. And then I just switched and I decided the feedback on my pieces didn’t make sense. You’re telling me it’s kind of right but not really right. But with math, there’s no in between. And that’s when I decided, math is the best.”
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is a freelance journalist and piano teacher in Portland, Ore. She has reported from as far afield as Iqaluit near the Arctic Circle to Ground Zero in New York on 9/11. She loves to bike, hike, and climb with her husband and two young daughters.