"Every child should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, water lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education." - Luther Burbank
What a beautiful quote and one that really got me thinking about how the 'unplugged child' is becoming an endangered species. So many wildlife conservation campaigns out there trying to protect the worlds beautiful creatures from death via poaching and natural habitat destruction yet as a society, many of us overlook the importance of protecting our young (the digital natives) from growing up without the truly amazing experience of a care-free childhood, one steeped in nature, adventure, curiosity and the odd bump and graze here and there.
We've all been there when the days are just so busy that it can sometimes just be easier to switch on the TV or give in to the demands for the gadgets and gizmos. On-line advertising aimed at children is hooking them in to the consumer loop and potentially tech addiction at a younger and younger age. In my day the only advertising I would see would be around Christmas time and that's if, a big IF, I was allowed to watch it. Now we live in a society where children are not only being targeted via TV (where the advertising regulations are more stringent) but also across all digital devices from tablets, to desktops, laptops, to gaming consoles and smartphones. It seems there is no escape for children these days unless they 'switch off'. Digital detoxing is growing in popularity and you only have to look around you to see why.
I believe there is still a lack of awareness (it doesn't help that the UK currently hasn't any safety guidelines around screen time limits) around how technology addiction manifests and what being switched on all the time does to a child's physical and mental health. I fear the door is slowly closing on everything the digital immigrants (born before 1985) like me and most likely you if are reading this post and smiled at the quote from Luther Burbank experienced growing up.
How lucky we were, never having that little demon on our shoulder or nagging voice tempting us to switch on and sit for hours on end playing computer games, surfing the web and losing ourselves and our most valuable asset, our time on social media. Instead I had a little demon on my shoulder telling me to go and fill up some more water balloons, to make mud cakes, to annoy my grandma by picking off every rose petal I could find off on her rose bush and add it to water to make a 'potion'. Reminisce, Reminisce, Reminisce those long Summer days on my chopper bike, space hopper and playing hand ball against the wall.
The only nagging voice I had tempting me was to want to 'go out and play', to explore, to climb, to feel free and best of all be with my friends having a giggle, plotting and basically being kids!
One of the reasons I set up 'National Unplugging Day' in the UK which is held on June 28th was to help parents take a moment from their hectic day to cast their minds back to their childhood and the activities they so loved. I wanted to encourage them to schedule in one day per year where they can join people all over the country in reliving their childhood past times and passing on the gift of the great 'Unplugged' whether indoors or outdoors to their children.
As a digital immigrant raising three digital native children, I worry so much for them on how much more stressful life is going to be as they get older if they never have the opportunity to fully explore and experience the amazing things life away from technology has to offer. Don't get me wrong, I love many things about technology but I also understand the importance of my children being able to look back in years to come and remember their childhood as fun, free and full of wonderment.
I've yet to meet any child that can tell me how amazing it was to sit in their bedroom and play a game for hours, or to tell me what happened last weekend when they were glued to their iPad. I've met plenty of children who can tell me the things they saw in the zoo, what they did in the park etc. I've yet to see my son's face truly beam with joy when I ask him about Angry Birds but I have experienced pure sunshine when we talk about the fun we had together on the beach in Cornwall when he was jumping over the waves.
Before our eyes, children all over the world are becoming slaves to technology and many parents sit by watching it unfold without any real understanding of the devastation it is causing and will cause our future generations. We, as a society are potentially bringing up 'our children' to be overweight, dissatisfied unless instant gratification is available, lacking essential communication skills, back, neck and eye problems not to mention mental health issues. What's truly frightening is this is just what we know some of the effects are now at this moment! What will be uncovered in the next 5 - 10 years?
So when I talk about the 'Unplugged Child' being an endangered species, I believe wholeheartedly that they truly are. We need to fully appreciate that without rules and boundaries around technology usage, without encouragement and motivation from us parents to get our children active and healthy our children will struggle more and more to appreciate and exist in a space where technology isn't available. If you've ever felt at a loss what to do when you've a few moments spare and you instinctively reach for your smartphone and you don't have it, well imagine what a child must feel like when they are so used to filling their time by digital experiences and they are all of a sudden plummeted into a space whereby there is no gadget to rely on.
What will fill their mind, will they be at ease with themselves or will they feel anxious and vulnerable that they have nothing to hide behind? I don't want that for my children so I am doing something about it now.
Dear Luther, I am very pleased to say that we've covered the grasshoppers, we've climbed, seen bees, butterflies, petted various animals, rolled rocks and felt the warm sand on our feet this Summer. Unfortunately the water bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, woodchucks, bats, hayfields, pine-cones, snakes, huckleberries and hornets will have to wait.
Long live the 'Unplugged Child' I believe it's not too late for this Critically Endangered Species. The beauty of this particular campaign to protect our digital natives from digital burnout doesn't have to cost a fortune, doesn't need any big, elaborate plans or grand gestures, just some good ol' fashioned fun will do!