Sometimes I find little pieces of my day, my week, and my life appearing to happen at random, unrelated, but suddenly coming together and pecking away at my thoughts. The latest of these is the introduction of a constant loop of thoughts about technology and its effect on the lives of our children. This sounds more morbid than I intend, and this is not a lecture about the bad effects of technology; but more a pondering on how it is going to change their world and our world.
The thoughts began when I read this article about Jamie Oliver banning his daughter from taking selfies, and they continued when I read this article in The Telegraph about how our children will not have photo albums to capture their lives, describing them as a ‘lost generation’. They carried on when my daughter, who is 5, asked me at what point she would have a mobile phone. And they appeared again when I read this article about how Bill Gates and Steve Jobs limited access to technology for their children. There seems to be so much in the news about how technology is changing everything around us. And no more so than its effect on children. For they of course are the future.
I am not somebody who is afraid of technology but I do wonder where it will take us in terms of its footprint on the world. The bits and pieces I’ve consumed all hint at the bad bits – but are they really bad bits, or does it seem this way because they are considered from the perspective of grown-ups?
I am a Millennial woman, born in 1981, at the beginning of my generation. Before me came the Generation X-ers, and after me comes Generation Z. There are many things that connect my generation with the X-ers, but one of the most vivid for me is the position we occupy sitting between the world of technology and the world before. We did not grow up knowing how to use technology from birth. We did not all have computers in our homes as children. Telephones were attached to chords, attached to walls. Mobile phones were in their infancy and were not widespread. Televisions were not smart. And the internet? I learnt about that at university. I remember learning how to use a computer at school in a room with a few computers, and being taught what a Mouse was. I remember sitting with my siblings at home when we got our first computer, waiting with excitement whilst our ZX Spectrum took a long time to load games. And I remember having my first mobile phone at 18 years’ old, which had different coloured covers and did little else apart from text and telephone people.
When my daughter asked me about the time in her life when she would get her own phone, everything inside me was screaming, “Never, not until you are 18, young lady”. But logic has to apply and we cannot stop children from learning about the world they are growing up in. If technology is all around them, we should not hinder this by applying our dated fears. I don’t honestly know the right age that she would have a phone in the future, but I am guessing it will not be as late as 18.
Thinking about the concerns raised in the articles about photos, how should we approach these as parents? On the one hand, I can see the sadness in losing albums, but do albums really have that much of a place in a future where our world seems to be moving towards online, streamlined and minimalist? How many of us would confess to having boxes of dusty photo albums in our lofts that we rarely look at? True, it will be sad for future generations not to find old paper photos of their ancestors but will there not be another way for them to find out about us then, anyway?
And what of selfies? I know there are many who feel saddened by the number of young women who pose with the same pose on these pictures. But is this not the same self-expression that we have practised ourselves for decades? It is in our DNA to express ourselves. It is in our DNA to want to follow trends like our peers. I grew up in the Eighties and Nineties when it was not unheard of to want to look like Madonna with a cone-shaped bra. I’m sure there were grown-ups then who tried to stop that. Self-expression and youth revolution are part of life and there is an argument that we, as grown-ups, have no place to prevent them but simply to offer our guidance.
I think the challenge for parents now is to shed our own limited thoughts about technology and try to put ourselves in our children’s shoes. This doesn’t mean opening the door to everything they want, there still has to be some boundary for them, but it means learning as much as we can about their worlds, and helping them to navigate them. I know this is not easy. Very recently, my daughter asked me if she could use my laptop to access an educational game progamme that she uses at school. My first instinct was to say no, because I feared it would be bad for her and she might break my machine. Shame on me. I had a word with myself, set her up a child-appropriate log-in, and then sat with her whilst she played. My thinking was that if she is learning computers and laptops at school, I should encourage this at home.
So, we are in a whirlwind, a new time, perhaps a scary time, but definitely an exciting time. Let’s embrace it, and not consider our children as lost.