I recently did a quiz on Zimbio which asked the person taking the quiz to identify cartoons that were popular in the 1980s.

I got 70%, which I was very proud of considering the limited amount of television that was available to us compared with the endless supply that the children of today has.

This also got me thinking, I have very fond recollections of playing backyard cricket with my friends. Naturally I was Sachin Tendulkar and I could imagine hitting crisp cover drives as if I was at Kingsmead or The Wanderers.

Do children of today have similar memories? Is technology robbing our children of a proper childhood?

An unarguable absolute

I am by no means labelling technology as the devil. There is a lot of good associated with technology which we will discuss later.

However, like the education debate that we have discussed in depth, we need to look at both sides of this debate before we can make an informed decision.

I recently read an article on Bloomberg.com which said that there is no doubt that technology has affected, and is affecting, our children’s lives.

The article asks the reader to consider that today’s smartphone-wielding teens and pre-teens are glued to their phones, posting on social media and revealing data about themselves even as they deal with the traditional adolescent stew of school, peer pressure and hormones.

The article adds that they’re figuring it out in front of an audience of hundreds if not thousands of so called friends commenting in real time on what they do, and (via Snapchat and Instagram) how they look. Some of these so called friends are less than admirable human beings when it comes to troll like comments. People are very brave on the other side of a smart device or computer and will make comments that they won’t likely make in person.

Snapstreak, a Snapchat feature that congratulates users for consistently messaging their friends, has been criticized by England’s children’s commissioner for being addictive. A survey by the UK’s Safer Internet Centre of 1 500 eight to seventeen year olds revealed that one in eight had shared a selfie in the last hour. Even some Silicon Valley executives want their offspring low-tech.

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What does the research show?

The Bloomberg article points out that among the data points from various surveys: The average age for getting a first smartphone is about 10 years old. Further, half of all kids in the US and the UK have social media accounts by the age of 12.

About a quarter of teens say they are online almost constantly. In a 2015 study, about 1 in 10 girls in the UK reported using social networking sites for more than three hours on a normal school day; and those that did were more likely to have a higher difficulties score, a measure of mental health.

The article points out that in a Safer Internet Centre survey of kids aged between 8 years old and 17 years old, 22% said someone had posted an image or video to bully them. A study led by Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, found that US teens who spend more time online are less happy than those who pursue other activities. In other research, Twenge posited that social media is contributing to a rise in teen depression.

Ample support

There is ample support to back these assertions up. A recently published article on mediapost.com paints a far graver picture.

The article points out that one in three adults say technology is destroying family life, and half believe that allowing a child unrestricted access to the Internet is a form of child abuse.

The agency’s Prosumer Report examines a number of themes underpinning structural shifts within the modern family, changing family relationships, parenting in the digital age, and the impact of children on consumption habits among those living in 20 countries.

“Nothing is more important than family. But that word has very different meanings for different people,” Havas Worldwide and Havas Creative Group Global CEO Andrew Benett told mediapost.com.

He added that to contribute to consumers’ lives in a meaningful way, brands must first understand the realities of family relationships and the complexities of parenting in today’s digital environments. Those are the insights we’ll be sharing with our clients.

The mediapost.com article adds that worries over digital technology are but one component in a more generalized concern about the changing nature of home lives. Two-thirds of adults say that today’s children aren’t given enough of a chance to just be kids, and half believe parents are sharing too much about their children on social media.

There is also a general sense that families simply don’t enjoy as much downtime together anymore: Nearly 7 in 10 parents surveyed said they wish their families ate together more often.

Technology benefits

Surely there are benefits to children growing up in an age where technology is having an affect on their childhood.

The kids of today are smarter and more confident when it comes to using technology that has made the world an easier place to live in. sure, there are jobs that technology has destroyed; however, a whole new industry has been created. This is an industry that will define the world in 15 years time.

So maybe giving children unrestricted access to technology is not a bad thing? I recently read a blog post where the mother was unapologetic of not limiting her children’s access to technology.

The author of the blog post said that she realizes that this may be the unpopular opinion in the age of anxiety-riddled motherhood rife with the idea that the world is ruining our children. She added that she has no fear that she, nor the world, is ruining her children.

Once upon a time

The blog post adds that once upon a time, when the author had no kids, she assumed that she would limit screen time. She had a lot of thoughts about parenthood before she had kids; now, she laughs at that version of herself.

The authors focus on limiting screens persisted through her first child. Though she set no actual limits on him, she just did not use screens very often. Cue the entry of two more children the day before he turned 2. When the authors twins were born, her ideals went out the window. Giving that iPad to her first born child was how the family survived.

Further technological joy

At that point, the author of the blog post said that she did try to limit screen time. The Kindles had neat features and parental controls with time limits, and she tried to use them.

She admits that she did not like the change I saw in her children. Whereas before the authors children may have spent 15 minutes on YouTube before aimlessly dropping their device and wandering out to the backyard, setting time limits made them desperate to use every minute.

Limiting screen time made the tablets some type of Holy Grail of toys that the authors kids desired above all else. Like the cookies on top of the fridge that mom says you cannot have before dinner, the tablets became a singular focus. If they had 30 minutes, they were going to cling desperately to all 30 minutes. Noticing this immediate change, the author pointes out that she stopped with the parental controls related to time.

The blog post author points out that she sees healthy kids growing up in a world that revolves around technology and learning to find balance for themselves.

When her kids graduate high school, the majority of jobs available to them or programs of study will all be in the technology field. Learning to find balance now, on their own, is so important for their well-being.

Treating technology as some evil to be controlled and limited does not prepare children for an adulthood laden with electronics at every turn. A 4-year old daughter may tell the family’s Alexa devise about her day. It may be weird and will confuse the devise, but this is the norm that the younger generation is growing up in.

Jordan Govender
Jordan Govender
Designer. Musician. Part of GTconsult's A-Team. Enabling secure productivity daily!

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