This morning's piece, The screens that are stealing childhood, resonated strongly with me for a number of reasons. The writer, Andrew Stevenson, examines the 'connectivity' of our children; the amount of time they spend these days plugged into some kind of device as a matter of course. In my own household, I watch Sixteen crawl out of bed in the mornings to land in front of the TV while he eats breakfast. When he gets dressed for school, the last part of his accessorising is the complex wriggling to feed the earplugs of his iPhone through his clothes from the iPhone in his pocket so he has music while he travels in the car to school, where he will spend much of his day alternating between real-time teaching and computer screens for written work and research. Home again, and the TV goes on as he walks through the door, the laptop is set up on the coffee table for homework in front of the TV. If offered a choice, dinner will be on the couch in front of the TV, and after dinner it's time to get together with friends, on Facebook, while continuing with homework. At all times the iPhone is within reach for the constant texting that punctuates all the other activities.
And this is totally normal. Not only for him, but for most kids his age, and younger.
In the article, the author looks at the hours our kids are spending engaging with devices rather than people; in stationary rather than physical pursuits, and opens the discussion for the potential long term effects on the way our kids interact, learn, play and rest. The sheer amount of time that is estimated for kids' use of all this technology is staggering,
Parents used to worry only about TV use. Now school students' screen use may begin at home with TV in the morning, continue with interactive whiteboards, laptops and computers in class, smartphones at lunch and on the bus, and continue at home with TV, computer, phone and tablet. Wayne Warburton, a psychologist at Macquarie University, says US studies show that beyond the school gates, teenagers are using screens or listening to music for more than 7½ hours a day. In Australia it is more than five hours and rising.
Discussions in the media suggest that this has all crept up on us, as parents. That the advances in technology that we have seen as beneficial and helpful have, perhaps, blinded us to the potential hazards in the long term. On breakfast TV just this week, there was a segment on monitoring our kids' use of the Internet and social networking sites; the importance of setting limits as to how much they use them, and how they use them. But then, there is the argument that this is their world, this is their norm, and to deprive them of it robs them of something that is intrinsically theirs. He quotes author Wayne Warbuton, author of Growing up Fast and Furious,
"Parents say to me they would love to put some limits on their kids' media use but that it is so much a part of their identity - playing the same games as their friends, being involved with the same media - that they feel they would be losing friends, losing identity and having problems if they didn't have access,'' he says.Another part of the discussion looks at attention issues, and this generation has to always have something going on around them. Gemma Ackroyd, principal of a local Sydney primary school says,
''I'm worried about a loss of time spent thinking creatively and thinking imaginatively because all the time there has to be visual stimulus, otherwise [they say] 'I'm bored','' she says.To put this into context, I am from the first generation that grew up with Sesame Street. I remember - many years later - when my own children were watching it, becoming aware of the studies that were emerging that showed statistics about kids with extremely short attention spans, particularly in learning situations. Details behind the studies included the fact that there were various sample groups, importantly those who had spent every day in front of Sesame Street from early pre-school days. The segments in Sesame Street averaged three minutes - and that was the average time these kids could focus on a concept.
My mother was the dragon mother before me... Our exposure to television when I was growing up was severely limited, and there are programs today that many of my generation know and love and are reveling in the reappearance of on the many new free to air TV channels that are cropping up that I've never seen. I did much the same thing with my own kids. The TV never went on in the morning on school days - EVER... Saturday morning cartoons, yes, occasionally, if we weren't doing anything else. Sesame Street and Play School after school some days, if we didn't have anything else planned or it was a cold rainy afternoon and I couldn't kick them out into the back yard. Once they reach homework age, it didn't go on at all until homework was finished. My eldest was given a Nintendo when he was nine, totally against my wishes. It lasted six months when, in response to the constant warring over whose turn it was, and tantrums because the 'stupid game' cheated (!), I sent it to their father's house with strict instructions for it to stay there permanently. When their mates came over and it wasn't nice enough to play outside, the board games came out - amazing said mates, many of whom had never played one. That, or the huge Lego collection.
They are 27 and almost 21 now. They both have iPhones; No.1 has Foxtel and loves it; No.2 plays networked computer games and loses himself in virtual worlds, and has an iPad to which he is semi-permanently connected... Notwithstanding the considerable trials and tribulations of their childhoods, they both have good memories of mad Monopoly wars, building cubbies under the kitchen table, family movie nights with cheap junk food that they didn't normally have, getting into the kitchen to bake cookies or scones for an after school snack, and any number of less 'connected' activities. I don't know that this current generation of kids have the wherewithal to entertain themselves if you take their gadgets away, and that bothers me...
At the bottom of it all - when did we, as parents, stop saying 'no' to our children when it comes to them doing things we're not entirely happy about? It's a word I heard a lot when I was growing up. If I trotted out the usual, "but everyone else...", I was told very firmly that, "you're not everyone else...", and there wasn't really much comeback to that! Despite the resolutions we all make to never say certain things to our kids that we hated hearing from our parents when we were kids, I did use that one. A lot. I copped it from many of my friends, who were much more permissive than me. But I still said 'no'. A lot.