Summer presents a lot of challenges for parents. Finding (and paying for!) childcare, keeping kids at least a little engaged in academics, and helping kids learn to grapple with boredom and entertain themselves are all on the list. Many people would also add controlling their kids’ access to technology: We don’t want our kids wasting the summer months inside playing mindless video games or watching YouTube clips of other kids opening Shopkins packages.
I’ve written about this challenge and the discipline of maintaining a healthy relationship with technology and not letting it rule your life. But this summer, I’m also appreciating anew all the ways that technology makes parenting—and just about everything else—much easier.
Take shopping, which is one of my least favorite chores to do with the kids. I dread dragging everyone in and out of the over-heated car, buckling up car seats, and then repeatedly saying no to all the requests for toys and treats that they don’t need and I don’t want to pay for. Obligatory shopping trips are now less and less frequent since I can go online for most of what our family needs. I no longer put together a long shopping list so I can remember scotch tape, laundry detergent, and a present for my son’s friend’s birthday party. Those are purchased in real time, without having to drive anywhere, with a couple clicks on my phone.
I’m still in the habit of regular grocery runs to replenish fruit, bread and meats. But I know others who are turning online to take care of that too, with services like AmazonFresh and FreshDirect that deliver groceries to your door. WalMart, Kroger, and others are also making it easier for moms by giving them the option to pick out their groceries and pay for them online before coming to the store. Someone then just loads the bags right into your trunk so the shopper never even has to leave the car.
This kind of convenience means a lot for busy parents, especially those juggling work responsibilities. People often complain about how the availability of technology can make it feel like you are never fully away from the job—we find ourselves returning work emails on Sunday or just before we go to sleep at night—but they also create flexibility that can be a big help, particularly when you are trying to make the most of the summer. If your work revolves around a computer, you can spend more time visiting family and at new destinations while still keeping the ball rolling at work. With a phone doubling as a hotspot and a laptop, the travel day on a road trip can also serve as a productive work day, reserving vacation time for the fun stuff.
And technology also provides a lot of fun stuff, particularly for kids. My knee-jerk response to my son’s request to play a game on the computer is a groan. But when I looked at what he was actually asking to play, it turned out it was a program that they introduced at school. It was a typical video game platform, with a character trying to break through to a higher level, but the core challenge was a series of math drills. I’d been bothering him to complete worksheets to keep those skills fresh over the summer, so it seemed like an easy call to say yes to a video game that he wanted to play but that also checked off a bit of summer homework.
I try my best to limit the time my almost twelve-year-old daughter spends talking with her friends on one of the (too many) interactive platforms that are available, but recently she’s been asking to go online and work on a long story that she and a friend are writing together using Google docs. She’s also rallied her younger brothers and sisters to create plays and other videos that they record on a phone. Sure, much of the time is spent trying out all of the different effects and they end up clustered around another screen. But at its core, it’s creative and I’ll take it as a harmless way to fill the summer hours.
I still like the idea of low-tech kids who rely on their imaginations and can enjoy nature without the distraction of a smart phone, and work to make sure that phones and computers don’t become the centerpiece of our lives. But done right, technological innovation really is progress, solving real problems and making our lives easier and richer. That’s something for parents to appreciate this summer.