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Why We Need to Stop Imposing the 'Tech Obsessed' Label on Our Kids

07/08/2016 22:26 | Updated 07 August 2016
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It's such a familiar narrative that I barely need to go over it again but here is the news - it's July 2016 and children everywhere are obsessed with technology to an extent that we fear for the future. How will civilisation ever function when this generation of socially-deprived, couch-potato tech-heads are in charge?

The problem is this version of events is so full of fallacies that it's barely true. First off. don't worry about ths future. If Trump gets in November, he's pressing that nuclear button the first time a foreigner mocks his hair or his creepy daughter-obsession. I doubt we'll see Christmas 2017.

But let's get on to the actual issues in hand. I should point out that I know nothing of older kids and teenagers - my oldest is seven - but in a world that talks about kids using tablets before they can talk, I think we have plenty to muse over regarding those first seven years.

It's true that kids do love technology- as we did in the 80s and 90s, spending hours waiting for ZX Spectrum games to load up or later acing the Marble Zone in Sonic. Tech has just got better, more accessible and... get this... more educational too. Yes, the toddlers using iPads are actually developing a range of skills when they play with those preschool apps. But both these points are an inconvenient truth to whoever writes those Facebook statuses - "For those who grew up in the 60s/70s/80s" etc, as if three decades' worth of children all grew up in precisely the same way. I'm an 80s child and, in a post-Apache world, I certainly didn't roam free from dawn to dusk with only a stick to eat. I believe we called it neglect, even then.

So, tech isn't new but are kids using it to a dangerous extent in these "nowadays"? Possibly yes, but it's easily remedied. If you can't enforce Xbox limits on your seven-year-old then the tech is not to blame. I'm sure there are some kids out there who use their iPad for 14 hours a day and have never conducted a conversation with another human being but again, we're calling this neglect. It's not the norm. My kids love Xbox and YouTube but they also love building forts out of blankets, reading books, lego, drawing, imaginary play and all those other things that a certain type of Facebook meme would have you believe are dying out. The seven-year-old recently did become obsessed with a piece of modern technology and we had trouble prising it out of his hands at bedtime, but he soon found it hard to sleep with that cube under his pillow, and once he'd cracked the "get the corners in place first" technique, the attraction wore off. He's moved onto Rubik's Magic instead.

Balance is everything. Yes, the seven-year-old and his friend played a ridiculous amount of Xbox yesterday while I was fire fighting some issues to do with the 4-year-old and her friends trying to flood the bathroom. But he also played in the paddling pool and on the slide, ran around in the park and played games of "Who am I?" while waiting for our lunch in a restaurant. Today we might make some pompoms.

Because the biggest thing I dispute is this idea that the love of tech has caused our children to become unimpressed with other things. One meme I saw this morning suggested that a child would turn their nose up at one of those multi-coloured biros from the 90s. Not so! My child got one of those last Christmas and loved it. Children are interested in all kinds of things, tech or otherwise but again, this fact is often inconvenient to the narrative that the media are trying to present. Remember the loom band craze that swept the nation a few years back? How much lower tech could you want than a pile of rubber bands and two pencils? Yet no-one ever seems to remember that today's kids can still be fascinated by something so simple.

Another thing I dispute is that screen time = sedentary lifestyle. If you watch my son and his friends playing Xbox together, they do not sit down quietly. They jump up and down, they yell, they laugh together. They choose whether to fight each other or work together but the idea of kids gaming in a passive and anti-social way is so far off the mark. Look at the latest craze - Pokemon Go. Yes, it's got its flaws and, like the early satnavs, has been sending people into rivers and nuclear fallout zones. But it's getting kids out and about, interacting with the real world albeit it in a surreal way. It's shown that it's possible to combine gaming and exercise and make it popular.

So, we've shown that the narrative isn't true - now, why is it dangerous to keep imposing it on our kids? Because like any label, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we buy into the idea that our kids are already a tech-obsessed generation, then we're effectively throwing in the towel and just letting them become that kid in the meme. If we gloomily accept that this is the way things are and there's no point changing it, then we're writing them off in our minds. We need to start thinking more positively about this next generation. They are going to need a decent knowledge of tech to survive - the real concern about the future is how the tech-illiterate are going to cope when banks are closing branches, high street shops are closing and everything is moving online. Let's equip our children so that they can order their shopping in future, book a holiday and all those other things that the adults of the 70s and 80s probably had to do in person.

But let's also be sensible about screen time. Set limits for how long they can play or watch for. Look out for signs that they are getting frustrated with their game or moody. And carry on doing all the things that our parents did with us - walks in the forest to find odd shaped leaves, trips to the supermarket to choose what we're having for dinner, free access to the piano so they can bash out "tunes" and start to learn about music for themselves. Let's teach them silly word games, though with some caution - my "replace a word in song with the word 'dog'" game when badly wrong when my son joyfully called out his version of "people are panicking" on a crowded tube. Yes, the Piccadilly Line at rush hour was treated to "people are dogging".

Now, that's something he didn't learn from an iPad...

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