As a technology journalist and a dad to an almost 3 year-old boy, I’m amazed at how quickly my son has adopted the gadgets in our lives. He’s already mastered the On/Off button on the TV remote, tapping and swiping on the iPhone is now second nature and he’s even partial to the occasional conversation with Siri.
While this makes for an amusing interlude when friends come over, I’m also constantly weighing up how much tech I should bring into my home, not to mention when it’s appropriate to introduce my son to it. It’s a question I’m sure most parents now face with a certain amount of trepidation. But rather than let the fear rule, I’ve spent the past 30-odd months tackling the uncertainties of technology head on, finding ways to use the gadgets at my disposal to connect with my son. What I’ve found is that, used in the right way, the digital innovations appearing all around us can support me in being the best dad I can, rather than interrupting or distracting us from what really matters – building our relationship.
Here are a handful of ways I’ve used technology to get closer to my son.
Minding the Gaps
Like plenty of parents who work, sometimes I have to be up and out of the house before my son wakes up. It doesn’t help that my son is also a late sleeper, often snoring until 8 a.m. (except on weekends, of course, when he wakes up at 5 a.m.!). I hate the idea that we don’t get to see each other in the morning, particularly if I also know I’m likely to be home late the same evening.
To explain why I’m not there pouring the milk in his cereal, I use our family iPad to record a morning video message for him to watch while he spoons his breakfast all over the kitchen floor. I get creative with the messages, sometimes bringing in guest stars from his toy box, but it never takes more than two minutes of my morning to leave something behind that I know will make his. It’s a great surprise for him that says “Daddy thought about me before he left.”
Always Time for Storytime
If I’m traveling for work, it’s easy for me to record a quick audio or video, reading one of my son’s favorite stories. Or even better, to use FaceTime, Skype or Google Hangouts to read it live to him from afar. Reading to children is one of the biggest investments we can make, and I hate missing this part of the day as much as he does. When we use video, rather than feeling my absence and becoming upset when I’m not there, my son actually looks forward to these occasions because the experience is different, and therefore more exciting, than the one he always has when I’m in the room. It’s just a different way to keep the daily routine going.
Baby Monitor vs the Work-Away Blues
Having a WiFi camera in a child’s room is a bit of a no-brainer. After all, it makes perfect sense as a way to ensure they’re happy and safe during the night. However, I find it really comes in handy and improves my relationship with my son, when I’m away.
Being away from the family on business can often be glamorized, but being away from the family for days on end can take an emotional toll. To help me over the lonelier moments, I sometimes just need to see him, to feel connected, and so I use this technology for me, not just for him. He’s still not 100 percent sure what ‘that thing on the wall’ is, but it gives me comfort to know that he’s happy and warm.
Music has always been a major part of my life, and I’ve tried to pass this onto my son. I created a Spotify playlist just for for him that collects all the songs he likes and occasionally introduces new people. There’s an eclectic mix of music on there, everything from Motown classics to Morrissey, and every Sunday morning I fire up the playlist over my Bluetooth speakers and we spend a little time dancing, playing and signing along. There are no LCD screens, no rules, just freedom to move and have a laugh. Mainly at my bad dancing. At the same time we’re slowly creating a soundtrack to our memories together that will give us moments to share as we grow up and old together. And you bet I’ll be playing this playlist at his 18th birthday/wedding.
The Big Screen Confidence Boost
Most modern televisions make it easy to throw video and photos from your phone onto the big screen, and that gives me all the tools I need to build up my son’s self-confidence and self-awareness. Every so often I like to dig out a video I’ve shot of him doing something special and fire it up onto the screen so he can see his successes larger than life. He’s often amazed at his own achievements when he watches them back on the big screen, and it gives me another opportunity to give him the kind of praise that makes his shoulders go back, his chest puff out and makes him walk just a little bit taller.
Why do I do all of this? I want my son to be excited by technology and to be prepared for a world that’s only going to be more reliant on it as time passes. I’m trying to show him that in the right place, at the right time, technology can be a powerful tool that lets us be a closer family. At least until he discovers Snapchat.