Many parents worry about the effects that technology is having on their children. The biggest challenge for parents is to understand the benefits and pitfalls of technology use and to help their children create balance in their lives.
Australian entrepreneur and West Cork resident, Bill Liao, founded CoderDojo with James Whelton, a not-for-profit organisation that teaches children from as young as five how to code. Today there are 17 Dojo clubs in Cork County. He takes time out of his busy schedule to speak to Mary O’Brien about spending ‘quantity time’ with your children and making sure that time spent on the computer is creative and not obsessive.
Bill, who has three teenage children, says that, “It’s very important that people make a distinction between what is creative technology, what is entertainment and what is obsessive.”
“Certain types of games are creative,” says Bill “and I think parents need to be very discerning, they need to sit down and play the game with their kids and figure out whether it is actually aiding their growth or making them hyperactive and twitchy!”
Bill’s children did not engage in social media until they were mature enough to handle this type of social interaction.
“It’s very easy to become socially bad in an online context,” says Bill. “You need to have a certain amount of maturity to handle how people might treat you online. Not even anything as dramatic as cyber bullying, but just unkind words can have a dramatic impact on a child that hasn’t developed fully socially in the real world. I don’t think people really think about that; it’s much easier to say something unkind in the online world than it is face to face.
“We explained the consequences of using social media to our daughter (14) and she has chosen to stay off it.”
Bill advises parents to participate with their children in social media. “But that takes trust,” he explains. “You want to let your children know that when someone says horrible harsh words online, it can be just because they’re not thinking and not because they really mean it. You want your children to come to you if they have a problem.
“Our daughter has lots of friends and they all text each other and sometimes they do say horrible mean things. She has come to me and I’ve told her to step back from it for a moment and think about what’s going on at the other end, maybe pick up the phone. Phones are incredibly useful!”
Bill doesn’t believe in the idea of spending ‘quality time’ with your children. “It’s rubbish. I think you have to spend ‘quantity time’ with your kids. That’s just the price of having children. It’s also the benefit of having children because they’re wonderful to have around. You just have to swallow your pride every now and then and just listen. If your kids feel like you are hearing them, they are much more likely to trust you.”
Certain kinds of game time are restricted in the Liao household. “For example a console game that’s first person shooter,” says Bill “But it’s hard for me to talk…every now and then I get obsessed with a game and play it myself. That’s the other benefit though, by playing a game with them I get to see what they’re doing and they get to see that dad’s not entirely incapable!