It’s a very different world that my children are growing up in, compared to the world that I knew as a child. Technological advances over the past 30 years have been immense, and I truly believe that as a result, our children’s minds are being wired in a completely different way to our own.
Technology today is all about instant gratification, and as much as it worries me as a parent, it’s getting very hard to resist. As a child I remember walking as a family in the rain to the phone box down the road, to call my relatives in York for a weekly chat. I vividly remember the day our first home phone was installed, which I think we were too scared to use for a while! I remember sitting in front of the radio on a Sunday afternoon with a cassette tape ready to record my favourite songs in the charts, always trying my best to press ‘record’ at exactly the right moment. And who can forget VHS tapes, with the titles of recordings written on and scrubbed off, a million times over. Then when a film came on that I wanted to record, there would be a mad panic to find a cassette tape that had enough space on it. I had so many films with the first 10 minutes missing, or the last 20 minutes chopped off. I don’t think I ever saw the beginning of Dirty Dancing until I was an adult!
Although things certainly weren’t as easy or accessible, they meant a lot a more, probably because we had to wait for what we wanted. If there was a movie out at the cinema that I really wanted to see, it would be years before it hit the video rental shops, and another couple of years before it was available to buy. So when I finally came to own a copy of Ferris Buller, for example, I was over the moon. A friend was telling me just the other day that she’d managed to watch the whole eight seasons of Dexter in just one month via Netflix. To me that felt like cheating! It’s taken me and my husband something like six years to watch all of Dexter, waiting with anticipation for the next season to air!
A 2012 study into young people and their hyperconnected lives by the Pew Internet and American Life Project predicted that this generation ‘will exhibit a thirst for instant gratification and quick fixes, a loss of patience, and a lack of deep-thinking ability’ due to something called “fast-twitch wiring”. I’ve already seen evidence of this in my four-year old daughter. She’s so used to watching TV or movies on demand, that she has no patience for live TV and not being able to forward through ad breaks. Similarly with mobile apps, she’s never had to wait – the download is instant.
My technology and gadgets are certainly no longer my own, except for my prized Kindle which I have learnt to not let anyone near! My tablet I lost to my daughter and husband a good couple of years ago, and it had reached a point where even my smartphone was full of more princess and education apps than my own. Surely the predicament of many parents out there!
Nowadays though, mobile phones are for so much more than making phone calls, and are essentially a gaming device, particularly for youngsters. While I imagine it will be a good few years before I’ll agree to let my children have their own tablet, I have to admit I see the benefits in them having their own entry-level smartphone from an early age. If you restrict usage to free apps only, in the long-run it can certainly work out a lot cheaper than children’s tablets such as the InnoTab, or big brand gaming consoles. PAYG models mean that there’s no need for a contract or monthly bills – a £10 top-up card will probably keep you going for quite some time, so long as no calls or texts are made. It goes without saying that good parental controls need to be set up first.
One thing I like about a child owning their own smartphone (aside from it freeing up mine!) is that it’s small and ‘mobile’, and much easier to take outdoors than a PC or PlayStation. I’d always prefer that my children are out of doors getting fresh air and exercise, to being stuck indoors playing on a console or watching a movie…so maybe a kid’s smartphone offers a good middle ground.
Ultimately, while I worry about the reliance that my children will have on gadgets and technology, both mentally and emotionally; I don’t think there’s much that we can do to stop it. Hyperconnectivity is infiltrating every aspect of our waking lives. This is the world we’re living in now. The best we can do is to teach our children when to ‘shut down’ and ‘log off’, and remember to lead by example.
* Disclaimer: Mobile network 3 kindly sent us a PAYG mobile phone to review, as background to this post. The subject matter and words above are entirely my own.