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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Suzanne Perez Tobias: The family that texts together...

BY SUZANNE PEREZ TOBIAS
The Wichita Eagle

If you listen to experts — the nameless, faceless people behind that ubiquitous phrase, “experts say” — you’d never let your kid touch a piece of technology.

Experts say Facebook rots your brain.

Experts say teenagers are texting zombies who can’t carry on a real conversation.

Experts say video games glorify violence.

Experts say the Internet is a black hole of depravity just waiting to lure your precious son or daughter into a pit of naughty photos and questionable language.

That’s all probably true to a point. I’m no expert.

But here’s something I’ve learned that few parents of teens or tweens will tell you:

Technology can be a whole lot of fun. It can even “enhance family bonding,” which is something experts tell us to do all the time.

Recently my daughter and I were shopping at a local store that sells international food products. We were in a silly mood and started shooting cell-phone pictures of things like Vegemite, Pocky sticks, rainbow farfalla and Hello Panda cookies.

Hannah gasped when she spotted a ceramic Ramen noodle bowl and texted a photo of it to a friend who loves Top Ramen.

“Birthday gift!” she typed.

Like many parents, I had mixed feelings about getting Hannah her first cell phone. But I have to say, I enjoy the texts she sends after school, while baby-sitting or when she’s at a friend’s house. The messages, like her Facebook updates, are full of wit, personality and smiley-face emoticons (most of the time), a window into every mood. They’re also a great way to learn what movies are epic and which outfits are beasty.

I vaguely recall my 13-year-old self, and I rarely if ever chatted with my mom this way. Sure, I gave her hugs and kissed her goodnight and all that. But there’s something about a “Headed home. Love you! :-D” text that just brightens a mama’s afternoon.

When I told Jack he couldn’t be on Facebook until he was 13, he protested briefly. But I helped him set up a Twitter page, with appropriate parental controls and passwords, and have relished his 140-character reports:

“Just got some new Bakugan and they are so awesome!!!”

“@ApoloOhno Did you earn any medals tonight?”

“Listening to my mom’s favorite music (a.k.a. the weirdest songs ever).”

Recently, Jack downloaded the CamWow app onto his iPod and started a gallery of bizarre, distorted self-portraits. The other day both kids sat on the couch and snapped photo after photo, giggling at their giant foreheads and pig noses.

Good stuff.

Our family time might not look like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s — though we do like to sit around the fireplace while Hannah plays her fiddle — but it’s ours.

It’s modern, it’s fun, and sometimes, if you let yourself relax and enjoy it, it’s not as terrifying as the experts say.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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