Chris Alling on the Dangers of the Digital Era

March 5, 2013 § 3 Comments

Today, The Ignatian Educator features its second guest post. Chris Alling, principal of Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA, reflects on the need for parents to be vigilant before the threats and temptations of the digital era.  

The Swiss Army iPod

March 5, 2013

By Chris Alling

I was a Webelo. When I became a Webelo, my dad (who had nearly made Eagle Scout when he was a kid), gave me his old pocket knife. One rusted blade, one can/bottle opener/screwdriver, and one awl.

His gift came with simple instructions. It’s not a toy, and always whittle or carve away from your body. When I was alone, I admired the blade as if it were Excalibur. And then I took the knife down to the creek and played a game of “chicken” with my friends where we tried to see who would not budge while the other threw the knife, blade out, at their feet, the goal being to stick it as close as possible without hitting their foot. About a week later, while working on my pinewood derby car, I cut myself. I whittled toward my body and nearly sliced off the fatty part of my palm just below the thumb. By then, I had thrown this knife at trees, my own feet, and carved a litany of personal epithets in the tree to which the tire swing was attached. All without significant injury. And now, in front of my dad and the scoutmaster, I had nearly perfectly filleted my own palm.

Have you seen a Swiss Army knife? The smallest model has eight “tools,” some of which would fell a small redwood tree and some of which would be useful in a surgical suite.  There are some models with upwards of 20 tools, making the knife heavy enough to be a weapon.

I don’t see many kids walking around these days with either Boy Scout pocket knives or Swiss Army Knives. I do, however, see them walking around with iPhones and iPads and smart phones and Blackberries. My wife and I gave our daughter an iPod touch for Christmas, and her face lit up almost as much as mine did when I got my dad’s pocketknife.

Later on Christmas Day I got a text from a number that I didn’t recognize. It said: “Hey Dad…it’s me!” It was from my 10-year-old daughter. She doesn’t have a phone. She had downloaded an app that allowed her to text message me and all of her other friends, as long as she was on our wireless network. I walked back to her room and asked, “How did you do that?”

Her response was more of a look than words. It said, “Really? Are you that dumb?” She then showed me the app she downloaded that basically turned her iPod touch into a VOIP cell phone. Giving her the I-Pod touch made me feel like my dad must’ve felt when he gave me his pocketknife. And now I was watching her pull blades out of it that I didn’t know it had. I thought she’d use it to slice imaginary fruit or play scrabble, or (God willing) study for a fifth grade vocabulary test.  She’d turned it into a phone . . . a cell phone . . . like mine.

Our kids — your kids — are running with scissors, and sometimes I think we’re tempted to plead ignorance and call it a harmless game of freeze-tag. I have to pay better attention. Their televisions have hundreds of channels, their internet is more web than net, and their pocket knives are laden with forks, spoons, toothpicks and cameras. They photograph and videotape themselves like they are their own paparazzi; they have personas and personalities I’ve never met but only seen on Facebook and Twitter. They have to let everyone know what they’re doing all of the time, and I’m shocked how often I talk to parents who have no clue what their kids are doing online — what they’re posting, what they’re saying, who they’re purporting to be on computers just a few feet from the kitchen tables in their homes. No clue. The irony is rich.

My daughter is a good kid, but I have her iPod touch on the cloud (I think). I get her texts. I read them. I respond to them and to the texts from her friends. She’s asked for an Instagram account several times. She mentioned tumbling the other day, and I don’t think she was asking me to sign her up for gymnastics. I have to be vigilant. I have to know when my kid tumbl’s. This could prevent a tragic fall.

Chris Alling

Chris Alling

Chris Alling is the principal of Xavier College Preparatory in Palm Desert, CA. He can be reached at


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§ 3 Responses to Chris Alling on the Dangers of the Digital Era

  • Val says:

    And the trouble with handing tweens and teens open and unrestricted access to digital technology is that the cognative behavioral development fully embraces “can” often without grasping the full picture on “should” (or “should NOT”). If digital technology is a pocket knife, there exists the possibility of “blades” equivalent to chainsaws and rocket launchers. Digital technology is a tool, but like any tool can be subject to dangerous applications.

  • June Gustafson says:

    Thoughtful and well written, our children and students are running with scissors….

  • […] The Swiss Army iPod (by Chris Alling) […]

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