A childhood before technology takes over

By Saadikah Hameed

I was born in the 90s and I had a childhood where I did my chores so I could go out and play. A childhood where I saved up cent by cent in my piggy bank so I could buy a skateboard. A childhood where I cried because I fell down from my bike, or drowned in the pool. Today, we have many children, but very little childhood.

Growing up in the 90s, is a lot different from growing up now. Technology has revolutionised every aspect of our lives and we have somehow become slaves to it. And inevitably, this affects our children too. Kids are given a smart-phone instead of a toy in their hands in a bid to keep them entertained. They learn to scroll, touch and swipe before they memorise ABCs. But can we blame the parents? We’re living in a hi-tech world where gadgets like the iWatch have taken its toll, so we can check our mails and make calls during morning jogs.

The time and place I grew up was beautiful. We went to the swimming pool to beat the heat and get tanned. The kids today get tanned by sitting in front of the heat coming from their laptop screens. We used to be absolutely thrilled to get the Casio calculator-watch or that diary-with-a-padlock as birthday presents. These days, expensive smart-phones are being handed out to seven year-olds as gifts. We used to wait for ‘Full House’ to play on cable TV every day at 7 and the entire family would gather and watch it together over tea and snacks. Today we have kids watching God-knows-what behind their screens in the privacy of their rooms unsupervised.

I’m thankful for being brought up in an era just before technology exploded and created this whole new medium including social media. I’m grateful for my parents’ strict curfews, be it for watching ‘Nickelodeon’, playing Cricket on the fields, or Pinball on the computer. For it taught me discipline, obedience to parents and to restrain from obsessing.

Many children today spend all their spare time in their bedrooms glued to their computer game consoles like the Nintendo, Playstation or Xbox playing Grand Theft Auto or virtual Football. This tends to have serious repercussions in their social behaviour as over-dependence on video games could foster isolation, also called as ‘the loner kid’. This is also why kids get their vision checked so early, due to excessive staring at bright-screens.

Excessive video-gaming indefinitely interferes with the academic performance as well. During my childhood, anything remotely close to a distraction, like the TV or my ‘Tamagotchi’ (digital pet) used to be switched off or taken away for the entire examination period. Today, we have kids pulling tantrums and showing their temper on their parents when they have their “iPad” confiscated.

Every hour children spend on their gadgets is an hour not spent climbing a tree, reading a book, or giving someone a hug. One of the adverse impacts of the recent technological upsurge is how it has, up to some extent, hurt the family and friend’s relationships. Ironically, the evolution in communications has created a void in face-to-face conversations.

Some 15 years ago, suppers meant family time and every member of the family would engage in the discourse regardless of age or topic. Laughter, sibling rivalry and love surrounded the table. Unlike now, where kids refuse to eat unless their favourite show is put on TV, or the adults, who have their cellphones out, doing their own thing in each other’s presence, unaware of what goes into their mouth!

That ‘real’ connection we used to have with our close ones is now lost to a ‘virtual’ one, somewhere in WhatsApp messages and Twitter posts. The virtual World has taken over. We simply don’t talk anymore, rather we lurk on people’s pages online and find out what’s going on in their lives.

We form opinions based on what we see, but how do we know someone through the life their social networks portray unless we speak to them personally? It’s normal today, if you were to ask one of your friends if they knew who ‘Sarah’ was, to hear a reply of  “Oh yeah, Sarah, I follow her on Twitter”.

I’m not the ‘pot’ calling the kettle “black” here, but I’ve also seen and lived both sides. And there was a time when social networks and cell phones didn’t consume our lives, but now it’s a drug, and let’s face it, we’re all pretty much addicted.

The ubiquitous use of Internet and gadgets also causes children to become less adept at remembering things. Researchers tracked a significant decrease in creativity among children, the factor being a decline of ‘play’. In order to develop a variety of skills, there is a need of a balanced media diet. Each medium has costs and benefits in terms of what skills each develops.

Studies show that reading develops vocabulary, induction, reflection and critical thinking, as well as imagination in a way that visual media such as video games and television do not. Kid’s homework and studies are achieved through a single click on Google nowadays. Back then, our assignments consisted of sweat, tears and effort.

Children lack the first-hand engagement, they fail to engage all their senses, move and interact with the 3-dimensional world. Playgrounds remain idle behind locked gates. Whereas, back in the good old days, the outdoors was something we couldn’t wait to go to from home, once back from school.

It’s deeply saddening to realise that these kids will never know the thrill in playing hide and seek, or the feel of bruises when they fall from a tree, or the smell of flowers, plants, and the sand. They will never know what it feels to soak in the sun, the sound of the waves, to get lost, to get scared, or to get hurt in real.

In the end, like any addiction, we won’t realise how much we’re a slave to our habits until we try to break from them. We can overcome this digital craze by learning how to ‘unplug’ and ‘connect’ with people in real life. We all, including kids, are in a dire need of a ‘digital detox’.

There have been extreme cases reported, where teenagers have dropped out of school, no longer interacting face to face, rather they channel all their energies into the online community. There have also been couple of violent incidents where the police had to be called, because the parents tried to restrict their child’s access to devices.

Young people are wedded to their gadgets because sometimes they achieve considerable success in games and gain status ‘online’, but fail to do so ‘offline’. Hence, replacing virtual pleasures with quality time in relationships and productive things instead, would seriously bring about empowerment in human beings.

This digital cleanse has to be initiated by parents. They are the role models at home, and therefore have to lead by example when it comes to screen time and this will encourage the kids to do the same. Secondly, we need to get more creative when it comes to physical activities for kids. It’s hard to get the kids off the couch and get them outdoors, but if the parents make moving fun and interesting, the kids might gradually abandon their devices.

Another cure to this addiction is by having strict ‘no-device’ rules in the bedroom before sleeping and this could be applied by parents as well. Using mealtimes as an opportunity to connect and bond, by banning gadgets at the table, would also bring about positive changes. Parents must also be careful not to use iPad, etc. as a digital babysitter, as that is the route of all evil.

We live in a world where we don’t jump into the waters anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We don’t plunge into the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. As rightly said by Jeremy Glass, “Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.” ***

Photo courtesy of Essential Kids

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