Give me your opinions on technology, kids and school! - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 8 Old 09-03-2011, 06:51 PM - Thread Starter
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Cross-posted in "Parenting Teens" and "Special Needs Parenting"


We have a new dilemma in our blended family:  the iPad.


My biological sons (twins, freshmen in HS) have "Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities" (which, similar to Aspergers, puts them on the Autism spectrum) + vision and fine motor issues.  They're allowed to use assistive technology in school.  The original agreement with the high school (at the end of last year), was:

* As many of their textbooks as possible would be loaded on the Kindles their paternal grandmother gave them two Christmases ago (Kindles can blow up the font size of text);

* Much of their writing and note-taking could be done with Neos.  Those are small, portable word processors (updated AlphaSmarts, if you're familiar with those).  They're relatively cheap (~$170 new, or $50-$100 used) and offer the basic convenience of a laptop, without any of the sexiness.  There are only 4 lines of visible text, no graphics, no internet access.  (No distractions!)


Then, at the beginning of this year, the Vision Specialist threw a wrench in the works, by telling me (in front of them and my ex, their Dad) that the public school system (which she works for, although the twins attend a Catholic school) could provide them iPads!  She also went on about how the kids all think those are so cool and prefer them to the Neos.  Lovely.


Let's skim right over the fact that I was originally told the school system could not provide Neos, so I bought those myself.  (But they can provide iPads?!?!?!?)


My objections to the iPads - reasonable or not (please comment!) - are as follows:


1- The twins have a pretty normal, middle-class upbringing, with me.  In all fairness, I guess I'm more back-to-basics than the norm.  Our microwave broke and we realized we can live without it.  Same with the coffee maker - now we make coffee the old-fashioned way.  Our electronic stove broke and we replaced it with a beautiful 1940's gas unit, without an automatic pilot.  Our a/c broke and we realized that, in our well-shaded, well-ventilated house, we really only need to turn on its replacement when it's over 90 degrees.  We only buy used cars and drive them 'til they die...partly on principle.  You get the picture.


DH and I both use computers heavily, but have only owned used laptops, until we got super-cheap deals on our current, new ones.  The twins and my step-son (12, lives with us) shared a desktop unit, until DSS's grandmother bought him a netbook (cheap, as laptops go).  Then DH and I found good deals and bought the twins a netbook to share, for their birthday; and a 2nd one, for their next birthday.  So now all 3 kids have their own, rather basic computer.  I would really like a tablet computer like the iPad, but we planned to wait a couple years, until prices fall under $200, for me to get one.


I don't like kids feeling entitled to have the latest technology - or to own expensive things their parents can't even afford to buy for themselves.  I don't like buying kids things like laptop computers (even cheap ones) - which the kids know were a financial sacrifice, and something special...then replacing them with something more exciting only a year or so later.  


My ex grew up wealthy, with busy parents who bought him anything he wanted.  I distinctly remember when we were in our early twenties, with infant twins.  He had a great job, compared to most of our friends.  We had a nicer apartment than most of our friends and two cars - one was even very nice, and new.  We had fabulous health insurance at a stage of life when most of our friends were uninsured.  But we couldn't afford a digital camera when they first came out and cost $800.  My ex was too sensible to have bought one, anyway, while the early technological kinks were still being worked out.  But the knowledge that he couldn't walk into a store and buy one, had he wanted to rendered him depressed, moping on the couch, for at least a week!  I don't want my kids to wind up like that!!!!!  Since we broke up, their Dad appears to have become much wealthier than his parents, and there's the definite potential of the twins growing up just like he did.  Thankfully, my ex is considerate, when I ask him to refrain from buying them things.  I try not to take advantage of that and be too controlling.  But I did ask him not to buy them iPads yet, and he hasn't.


2- DSS is drooling for an iPad.  It seems horrendously unfair, to me, to let the twins have them (ostensibly because they "need" them, for school) and not to get DSS one.  DSS has his own issues, with entitlement.  There's a lot of bitterness and competition from his mother, who lives far away and does her best to try to sway DSS to announce that he'd prefer to live with her, in part by buying him all the latest stuff.  In the past, for example, we have refrained from buying DSS an iPod Touch for his birthday, because 6 months before his had Mom given him an iPod Nano and we didn't want to be competitive, or replace her special gift.  Then she bought him a Touch!  I don't want to feel - or have DSS or anyone else think - that we're actively trying to win that competition.  I don't think it's a competition parents should ever engage in, as it creates spoiled kids with unrealistic expectations for their future lives, when they're supporting themselves.


3- The twins really love technology, Facebook, etc.  I do worry that having anything "cool" or that seems like a full-fledged computer, in school, would be distracting.  And getting through high school is going to be a lot of work for them, as it is.


So, if you read this long thing, what do you think?  Am I wrong to consider DSS, in making decisions about the twins' assistive technology?  Should I be giving more weight to how having something "cool" at school might bolster the twins' attitude about learning and help them, socially?  Am I simply a nutty, old-fashioned killjoy?

One woman in a house full of men:  my soul mate:    or... twin sons:(HS seniors) ... step-son:  (a sophomore) ... our little man:   (a first grader) ... and there is another female in the house, after all:  our
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#2 of 8 Old 09-03-2011, 07:36 PM
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The twins are in private school, so either you or XH would have to pay for them, or split the cost, right? And you and DH would pay for DS's? What happens if one of them gets broken or stolen? Actually, the latter would weigh on me... a kid carrying around an expensive, highly desired bit of technology like that... would that put them at greater risk in any way? Are the tools the twins have now working perfectly well? Would your XH/DH support you in requiring each child to come up with a certain percentage of the cost of their own device (so they understand the value of them, and will hopefully be extra careful with them?)

~Teresa, raising DS (Jan. 02) and DD1 (Jun. 04) and DD2 (Dec. 11) with DH.

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#3 of 8 Old 09-03-2011, 07:54 PM - Thread Starter
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- The public school system Vision Specialist works with the twins at their Catholic school and she's evidently authorized to provide vision-impaired students iPads to use at school, during the school year.  The iPads would still belong to the school system.  When my ex heard about this, he offered to just buy them each an iPad instead, so it would belong to them, all year.


- Yes, I think theft is a reasonable concern, too.  I'm not AS worried as when they were in the public middle school (where we lost a LOT of things due to kids taking advantage of their trouble working combination locks [i.e., sometimes they got frustrated and left their lockers unlocked]; or kids saying things like, "Hey, I think your new watch is broken.  Let me take it home and I'll have my Dad fix it for you...")  But every student at a Catholic school is not a saint, certainly.


- One iPad (for DSS) is certainly more affordable than 3 (and yes, X could buy the ones for the twins).


- Yes, the technology the twins have now is perfectly fine!  Even the Vision Specialist acknowledges the only advantage to the iPads is the "coolness" factor!

One woman in a house full of men:  my soul mate:    or... twin sons:(HS seniors) ... step-son:  (a sophomore) ... our little man:   (a first grader) ... and there is another female in the house, after all:  our
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#4 of 8 Old 09-04-2011, 12:51 AM
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What do the kids need to be able to function in school?  This is only about one issue and that issue is the kids being able to function in school.  If the school is willing to provide IPAD's for them I would accept the IPAD's.  The reason being in this day and age of ever changing technology I would want my child to have every opportunity to deal with as many forms of technology as possible.  I would view the accessibility to IPAD's as a bonus in this situation.  There is no need to go out and get child#3 his own.  There will be plenty of time (nights, weekends, holidays etc) when he can play with one of the other kids IPAD's. (assuming they are able to bring them home and the IPAD's dont stay at school).


In a family with several kids not everyone gets the same stuff.  

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#5 of 8 Old 09-04-2011, 10:02 AM
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I did law school with a laptop.  I never took handwritten notes in law school - ever.  But....I spent a considerable amount of classtime completely distracted, online shopping, facebooking (since when is that a verb?), surfing the net, etc.  I did well, and graduated with a very respectable GPA - but if your teens have learning disabilities, distractions could be much worse (I of course have no experience with learning disabilities, so please don't take that as being offensive - you know your kids and you know better than I do whether they would still do well if they were surfing the net during classtime).

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#6 of 8 Old 09-04-2011, 10:37 AM
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Is there a way to ONLY have the necessary apps on the iPad, and not all of the games?  I can see this going horribly wrong ... for the reasons Super~Single~Mama listed.  I really think that the iPad has too many bells and whistles to be appropriately useful in a high school setting.  All of their friends are going to want to play with them and see them, there's a high probability that they'll end up broken, etc etc. 


(I would be pretty PO'd at the specialist for mentioning them in front of the kids, myself.)

DD 2/08
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#7 of 8 Old 09-04-2011, 11:16 AM
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I would be careful about projecting your dislike of how your former ILs  raised your ex onto an iPad;  your kids may turn out to be brats or not, but it won't rise or fall on whether or not they receive (or don't) any particular device from the school.  I guess I will differ from most people here in that I see electronic devices as tools, not instruments of the devil/corporate evil/the death of imagination/whathaveyou.  Yes, the tech "now" is "perfectly fine"--but will that change by the end of high school?  Adulthood?  I don't see many professional adults toting around alphasmarts, but (granted, I live in Seattle, so of course this is part of the reason why) I DO see lots of adults with iPads/tablets.


The truth is, devices like these are becoming commonplace as assistive tech in many areas, with even younger children.  At 14 or 15, kids are more capable of taking care of them than elementary age kids--yet they are being used for elementary kids as well.  They're lightweight and portable, and more important, have the same amount of power that bigger, clunkier, easier to damage devices have.  Your sons, if this particular tool settles well with either or both, will probably be using something like this throughout their lifetimes.  I really don't see the logic of not allowing them access because you're afraid they'll get mopey someday if they can't do the shopping they want to.  (I have to say, doesn't this ever happen to you?  I don't have an iPad, and you know, sometimes when I really want something and I can't have it, I DO feel pretty sulky for a bit before I get over it.  I think that's simply human nature, and how quickly one bounces back from disappointment is not just influenced by one's parents.)


I have three kids (a singleton and twins as well).  I don't buy everything for everyone at the same time.  That means that even my twins sometimes get shoes/clothing/stuff at different times depending on when they need it.  I think it's unavoidable that your stepson is going to feel left out, it's normal and understandable for him to feel that way.  I think you have a better case for stating truthfully that it's the school that is supplying them, not you, though of course you can't expect a teen to "buy it" and be hunky dory about it!  I also disagree that you should allow others (even DSS) to play with the school devices, and that also means your sons.  No angry birds, no games, ect.  At least for the first long while so it can become commonplace and routine to them.


I also think you either take them or you don't.  Unless they're both in the same classes all the time, they're going to need their OWN device. If you're going to accept the devices, then don't destroy their usefulness out of a need to not offend your sensibilities about "ipads for both means they're spoiled, ect, so we'll just get one even though it means that it won't be used to its potential".  I think it's okay to decline, if that's the decision you make, but I don't think if truly your reasons for declining are that you're worried about turning them into entitled brats are entirely rational--and may do them a disservice if they're offered such devices (which are more mainstream and can carry them beyond high school) in the future.  I'd much rather have a kid getting used to this tech when I still have strong parental control, than for them to get the woohoo factor later on when I don't (for example, once they're in college and can set up their own itunes account and buy whatever crap games they want to put on there).  Now that this idea has been planted in the kids it may be that you'll have to deal with this like it or not, perhaps at a future date where you have far less influence and control.

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#8 of 8 Old 09-04-2011, 11:06 PM
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I agree completely with all of the fears you've stated, Jeannie. I don't think you're wrong for considering what DSS would think. It doesn't have to be the major factor in the decision, but it's worth having on the list. If this were a question between iPads or nothing, I'd say DSS's possible feelings on being "left out" might not outweigh the twins getting a learning tool, but as they already have something that works, I think it's fair to at least factor it in some. It wasn't until I was out of college that I saw my parents getting my younger brother "more gadgets" than me wasn't an indication that he was favored over me. I didn't think they didn't love me (at the time), I just thought they loved him more. And I didn't have a parent in another state trying to convince me of the same! I can't say your DSS would have that thought process, but that is why I would have his feelings on the radar.


No matter the decision, your boys will have the tools to make education work for them. I can't imagine the distraction of having this shiny toy with me in class (many faculty ban these kinds of devices from their classrooms at the university where I work because it's so distracting even for adults) and yet iPads have more capabilities--tutoring apps, or other educational helpers for example. It's a hard choice. My initial reaction would be to keep what's working for them right now, though.


One additional concern I would have relates to the billing. It is my understanding (from lots of Googling to try to figure out how to get around it for work-owned iPads onto which we'd like to install free apps without permanently associating our personal credit cards) that it is difficult or perhaps impossible to configure iPads either without a credit card or with a prepaid debit card and be able to install any apps from the App Store. I assume they're going to need to install something, presumably the educational apps at least. So I would expect detailed information from the school at how that will be handled. Yes kids can be instructed not to install apps that cost money, but there are apparently problems with some in-app billing too. That is, apps that are free to install, but aren't free to play/use. I have never looked into the abilities of this particular technology to use some kind of parental controls on app purchases, so maybe there is a simple solution.


Since the battery life on a Kindle is much more than an iPad (not sure about the other device you mentioned so maybe you already deal with this), you would need to come up with a routine to plug it in every day (instead of once a month?!). What's the point of having a tool if its battery is dead? It is good to build up the skill for routine and discipline, but if the "punishment" for forgetting is having a hard time in school the next day, I can't say it's the best way to learn this lesson.


I would be a bit concerned with the virtual keyboard on the iPad. I have a hard time typing on iPad virtual keyboards without looking at the keys, since the lack of tactile buttons gives no feedback of whether I hit the right button. I would think this would slow them down and might take their attention away from the instruction, but not sure if it would be enough of a difference to impact their learning negatively. It might be worth trying out before committing to it.

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