While many of us grew up playing outside, nowadays a lot of children grow up behind a computer display. While this isn’t necessarily bad on itself, it does pose severe challenges. Not just because smartphones, tablets and game consoles keep youngsters indoors, but also because few parents realize what a child goes through when growing up in the digital age and how to deal with it.
When I was about six years old I was introduced to the Gameboy. The pocket-sized game device allowed me to enter a world of seemingly infinite possibilities and proved one of the funnest toys I had. But even though my parents liked the fact I wasn’t causing any trouble, they didn’t really seem to realize which fantastic worlds I was exploring or what type of content I was consuming.
Although I wouldn’t say that I had a troubling youth or that this caused me any problems later in life, I believe a significant difference between then and now is that by the time I was 6 years old I already developed many of the social skills that are essential later in life and that the world wasn’t as connected as it is now. Today children are born with a social media profile and a smartphone laying next to their bed.
One striking example in the difference between growing up in the 1990s and now is illustrated in a video I once saw about a baby that thinks a magazine has a touch-screen. Although it looks adorable at first, when looking at it more closely it shows that children that grow up today observe the world around us in a completely different way.
Many children today go to school with a smartphone in their pocket. Not because they want to call their parents if something goes wrong, but mainly because it’s regarded the same as wearing shoes. While working as an intern teacher at my local primary school I realized soon enough that mobile devices don’t just stand for millions of games, millions of books and millions of videos, it thereby also stands for millions of strangers.
Through apps like YouTube, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram and many more youngsters are able to get in touch with as good as everyone, with their friends, but also with the rest of the world. Since most parents think a silent child is a good child, it isn’t always understood that below this silence a child can see or be in touch with the strangest of people.
One example of the dangers of this infinite connectivity was recently exposed by journalists from ITV’s Good Morning Britain. When they made a fake profile of a 13 year old girl and started interacting with strangers, it didn’t took long before they received the strangest messages. Some directly related to sex.
And if many of the most popular apps don’t prove enough challenges for moms and dads, a child merely playing games doesn’t always get in touch with the things you’d like to see as a parent as well.
Since for some reason computer games have a cuddly and peaceful feel to them for a lot of parents, few seem to realize that although Call of Duty and GTA are sold in toy stores, they are not always meant for young children. You’d be surprised how many 8-year olds can tell you what their favorite multiplayer map is in Call of Duty, Counter Strike or GTA (some of the most violent game titles available).
To make the point of the effects of violent games on youngsters more clear. Do you believe it’s good toddlers relive World War 2 battles in ever realistic ways all day? Or that they play football outside? (and yes football does have some war-like elements as well, but it sure doesn’t involve killing others for fun)
What I want to point out with all of this is that children grow up in a world that’s fundamentally different than the world most parents grew up in. While it used to be safe enough to lock the front door to keep dangers out, today youngsters are exposed to the entire globe on an almost permanent basis, with all the advantages and disadvantages. For this reason not only children should be educated about the dangers and possibilities of the digital world, parents should as well.
Several good advices in regards to how to adequately deal with technology as a parent I found in an article by Neurology Now. While it might seem tempting to opt out on violent games and internet connected devices, since it has become a part of the world we live in it proves better to embrace them in a responsible way.
Instead of leaving your kids alone in their room, experts agree it’s better to position game consoles, smartphones, desktops and related devices in a public space, for instance the living room. This allows parents to monitor children their activity and to, for instance, promote the use of educational apps and games.
Aside that, it’s also advised to set boundaries. “Kids are often unable to accurately judge the amount of time they spend gaming. Further, they are unconsciously reinforced to stay in the game,” says Dr. Greenfield, founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Greenfield recommends no more than one or two hours of screen time during weekdays. Discussing topics like internet usage at an early age and explaining a child what a parent expects also helps.
What is key, say experts, is maintaining a general presence in the lives of a child and being aware of their interests and activities. The familiar situation of parents watching TV and a child playing behind the computer all day must go, and should be replaced with parents playing together with their kid(s) and taking care of what he or she is doing. While technology will change, we should always take the responsibility of caretaking.