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Oct 5, 2020

So many of our grandchildren have an overpowering connection to their handheld computing and gaming devices. They steal focus from the time we spend together, but it's the "new normal" in many households.

How can a grandparent accept the reality without encouraging the intrusion? Emily talks with three guests who bring their personal and professional expertise to the challenge.


Guest Emily Cherkin can answer your questions through her service and website, The Screen Time Consultant.

Emily's second guest, Jennifer Fink, runs the parenting site Building Boys. She mentions the book "Moral Combat: Why The War On Violent Video Games is Wrong" by Christopher J. Ferguson. Jennifer's podcast, On Boys, recently had Emily as a guest to discuss the grandparenting of boys. Here's a video teaser on YouTube.

Rhonda Moskowitz provides coaching through her business and website, Practical Solutions Parent Coaching. She is active with (and mentioned) the Childrens' Screentime Action Network, a great resource for parents and educators.

And here's our personal history of personal computers. How does this compare to your own?

  • 1983 Apple II Plus with 48 kilobytes of memory, a green screen monitor, and two floppy disk drives.  And a joystick to play a helicopter game.
  • 1987 IBM PC XT with 128 kilobytes of memory, a 10 megabyte hard drive, and an external 1200-baud telephone modem for CompuServe.
  • 1990 generic PC clone we bought at Montgomery Ward with a 20 megabyte hard drive and color monitor, and a faster modem for America Online.
  • 1992 Compaq Elite mini notebook with a built in trackball for word processing without a mouse.
  • 1995, the first of a succession of IBM PC clones Mike built out of separate components, upgrading parts that would fail or become obsolete, as if we were in some science fiction movie. (Continues to this day)
  • 2003 Toshiba laptop for the oldest to take to college, which gave us our first hard drive crash. 
  • 2006 First MacBook (for #3 to take to college)
  • 2013 my first real laptop, an Acer Ultrabook with Windows 7
  • 2014 my first iPhone (iPhone 4)
  • 2015 our first iPad (iPad 2)
  • Today, we're on our 2nd Mac, 6th homebuilt PC, 4th laptop, 2nd iPad, and Emily is on her 3rd iPhone.

How about you? Send us an email.

The Stretch It Takes (Emily's essay)

Technology is a stretch for most of us. I’ve talked to people a little older than I am who are just now retiring, and they say the technology in the workplace was just getting to be too much. I get it! Most of my work has been in office support kinds of jobs. What began as writing down phone messages on pink “while you were out” pads has now become forwarded emails. What used to be literal pasting newsletters together with liquid cement has become searching the Internet for images, digital cutting and pasting, and learning each new version of page layout software. Meanwhile, meetings that used to take place in the conference room must now be set up and attended virtually. 

All of these things have not only changed the way we do things. They have changed the people who do them. They have changed us forever. This is the stretch. How far do we flex before we actually fall over? I can’t be the only one who gets frustrated and worn out by it all.

I remember the first time I saw a computer, in 1967. It was large and looming, and I was only 8 years old. My dad was taking classes at a state university in Buffalo and I tagged along to join him at the computer lab. We walked into the building and to my right was a glass-walled room that housed the computer. It was massive….like 24 feet long massive. Every time someone went in and out of the room, the pressurized, conditioned air made the glass doors swish like a shower door, and I braced for the cold breeze to hit my face. I was mesmerized by the clattering reel-to-reel tape circling backwards and forwards. To my left, people were typing at each station, as manilla cards were being punched by each stroke of the keyboard. The machine would spit out those IBM cards in neat little stacks. My dad handed me a stack with a rubber band around it before we left. The rectangular punches on each card didn’t line up, but the angled cut on one corner did. I was all at once fascinated and frightened. What kind of world had I just encountered?

By the next time I saw a computer, it was a fraction of the size, and only needed a window air conditioner to keep it happy. I was working in an office setting, assisting a small cadre of computer engineers at the University of New Hampshire. My job was to collect the large white stacks  that the engineer’s computer printers spat out. I took it upon myself to rip off the punched holes on the edges of the paper before delivering to an engineer a neat accordion-pleated pile of pages. I had no idea how to read Fortran, but that was the language the computer least to the engineers who were fluent in it. 

My husband and I became proud owners of a computer in 1982 that was smaller still--small enough to sit on our desk. Our Apple II Plus had 48 Kilobytes of memory, a green screen monitor, two floppy disk drives, and a joystick to play helicopter games. We were so cutting-edge that our local magazine in Bowling Green, Kentucky ran a feature story about us being one of the first members of our community to own such a device. I loved it, until my graduate school thesis committee decided that since I had such a grand device, it wouldn’t be too much for them to ask me to continually make changes to my thesis… which was about The Industrial Revolution. Ironic, isn’t it?

We are now heading into what experts are calling The Fourth Industrial Revolution. Computers have gone from mammoth to micro. The next step might be computers that have more real than real estate about them.  We are nearing the point at which computers are going to integrate with humanity in a way that might be indistinguishable. Eventually, our grandchildren might not be able to tell the difference between real and virtual. 

So what do we do with that? I sometimes long for the days when children played with nothing more than their imaginations. When an afternoon consisted of sitting in front of a fan in your unairconditioned home, making weird mouth noises for entertainment. 

But I don't want to be THAT grandparent. I don’t want to be a “back-in-the-day” kind of person. So I stretch. I learn as much as I can, and lean into the virtual worlds of Minecraft and Animal Crossing and try to participate with my grands as much as possible. All the while, I’m hoping that they will find pleasure in the real world beyond games and devices. I figure I’ll join them in both worlds and hope that the real one wins the day - and that they can still tell the difference between the two.   

--(c) 2020 Emily Morgan