The Character Movement

The Dawn of the Walkman

By Joe Cavanaugh, Founder & CEO

The year was 1979. I was working as a youth minister at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina, Minn. My job was to help lead 200 high school students on a week-long ski trip to Colorado. For the many adult volunteers who led these trips for years, the toughest part of the trip was always the 30-hour bus ride. By hour 14, we were close to going crazy. Boom box wars battled Led Zeppelin against ABBA. Hormones raged as teenage boys and girls tried to “snuggle” in their seats while we patrolled the aisles and tried our best to keep them apart. No one ever slept.

The bus ride in 1980 was different. Around hour three, it dawned on me that everything was quiet. The reason: everyone was wearing a Walkman. The invention of the personal music player meant that there were no warring boom boxes, no arguing about what music to listen to and a lot less socializing because most of the kids were off in their own world. At one point, I watched with a mixture of sadness and relief as a senior boy sat down next to a junior girl and waited. After a long agonizing spell, he figured out that she was never going to notice him while she had her headphones on, so he slunk back to his seat.

On the one hand, the Walkman made our job easier. On the other hand, I was struck by how such a seemingly simple piece of technology had changed what it meant for these kids to grow up.

Today the devices are even more powerful and sophisticated. Teens, and increasingly children, are networked into the entire world of ideas, information and people. As parents, it is critical we create rules and boundaries.

As parents, it is critical we create rules and boundaries.

If your children want to be on Facebook, perhaps they have to be your “friend” so you can monitor what they’re doing. Or if your child wants to text with friends, maybe you create a 10 p.m. tech curfew so he or she can get some sleep. Or maybe you make certain family activities, such as dinner, a technology-free zone.

The simpler and clearer the rule, the easier it will be to follow. But as a reflective parent, you also need to engage in a deeper conversation about what effects technology is having on your kid. I’m not talking about starting an argument with your child. I’m talking about trying to understand those Walkman moments when suddenly a new tool changes their entire world. Ground rules are important, but they won’t help you, as a parent, understand what it’s like to be a kid.

For other technology management ideas, check out Mind Positive Parenting and Search Institute’s

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