A Millennial Dad's Tech Divide

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I consider myself to be fairly hip and in-touch with current technology and entertainment trends. I can hold my own with most top 40 lyrics and even sneak in episodes of the world that is WE TV. But even this millennial parent suffers from the tech divide when it comes to my nearly seven-year-old daughter. Elle’s ability to successfully navigate online content makes me look like my dear Aunt Beth trying to adjust the volume on her television. Granted there’s been a duality in my relationship with today’s technology as I lived a good half of my life without it, void of cellphones, iPads, DVR or car navigation―all of which made their entrance shortly after my exit from college in the early 2000s.

As a child, my parents were able to effectively limit or at least utilize a heightened sense of awareness regarding what I watched, in large part because it was limited to one television in our living room. If I was watching it, in a sense, so were they. Any snarky comment could quickly be traced back to Cheers, Seinfeld or Night Court. But with my daughter, I have been kept at bay primarily by the delivery mechanisms for the content she watches―delivered on the iPad by a myriad of streaming services on the internet. (No, she doesn’t have all-access to content, and yes, we do manage her screen time, but it’s markedly more labor-intensive than it was for my parents.)

Aside from watching “Must See TV” within earshot of or with my parents, we frequented the theaters to see the latest children’s films. I would love to say that I carve out enough time for those trips, but I would be lying. As a busy two-professional household, trips to the theater are infrequent. Naturally, my millennial-parental instinct was to default to on-demand through the TV―but that soon failed as viewing movies on the TV loses her in the same way radio left me longing for TV. Movies rented on-demand take a $6 hit as her enthusiasm fades at the twenty-minute mark when viewed on the flatscreen.

The parental danger exists in letting my daughter view movies where monitoring said plotlines is similar to herding cats. She’ll make a quip or ask a question that is a derivative of the who-knows-what she’s watched and I’m left wondering; I quickly feel guilty for my lack of proper supervision. Watching movies with children is a chance for families to bond, but more importantly, an opportunity for parents to actively filter content through explanation and guidance. The shared experience allows parents to clarify hyperbole and language beyond the limits of a youngster’s understanding while heeding warnings of what must never be emulated or repeated.

The core issue is not whether that’s necessary (it is); rather, it’s how can parents have a shared experience on unfamiliar content delivery platforms? How can a parent like myself share the joy of film with my daughter in a way that holds her attention, so as to filter the content as an engaged and assertive parent?

The answer was hidden in plain sight―right there on the iPad.

I had to let my flatscreen sit on the wall and immerse myself into my daughter’s reality.

Side-by-side, blanket and popcorn, we watched a new feature film right there on the slightly cracked iPad. Elle’s choice―she chose Deep (Lionsgate) for our first #nextgen father-daughter movie date. Now, Elle’s only six, and Deep’s playful and engaging plotline was a wonderful way to connect in the same way (with today’s technology) as I did with my own parents time and again. Apparently, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen an animated film; I was blown away by the quality of digital animation delivered straight to my device―no theater necessary―not to mention the time we saved by eliminating both the round trip and previews. As we watched, Elle asked questions and we took pause to discuss choices made, consequences rendered as I dutifully issued clarification and reassurances from the comfort of our living room sofa. Deep’s storyline provided a deliverable message which resonated with Elle and left me, as her father, confident that any lines repeated wouldn’t land her in timeout. Most satisfying, however, was unlike the fear her whisper (more of a soft yell) evokes in a movie theater―our dog didn’t seem to mind our chatter.

I think we’ll watch Saving Christmas next.

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