“Go to your room, and think about what you did!”
Though my neighbour spoke in a fairly monotonous voice, I could sense the firmness in her words. So could her seven-year old son. Giving her an angry stare, worthy of Hannibal Lecter, he picks his PSP, storms off into his room, and slams the door shut. The whole flat shudders slightly, and so does my teacup, which politely sat on the coffee table. Not quite sure how to respond, I do the best possible thing – I pick up the floral teacup and sip on some heavenly masala chai.
Now in the interest of respecting their privacy, I’m not going to divulge what led to this “battle”. Nevertheless I will say this – The kid was in the wrong, at least in my opinion. But then, people say that the behavior of kids are usually a reflection of their upbringing. Anyway, this incident got me thinking – Are kids really that different now, than say the 70’s-80’s, when most of us would have been in their shoes?
Not much has changed biologically, I suppose. Kids still like to run freely and jump about. They still love to go higher and higher on the set of swings in the playground. They still get a kick out of playing games such as hide & seek and running & catching with their friends. They are still impressed with the tall giraffes at the zoo and the playful dolphins at the Water Kingdom. So, the kids of the 21st century all seem to have been essentially “wired” in the same way as us. So what’s changed then?
The answer has to be technology. Yes I know, our kids are probably more adept at using newer technology than we would have been at the same age. The difference is the influence of technology in every day life. And that’s what is changing our kids and subsequently our parenting style. Confused? Let’s take a look at few examples:
Communicating with friends
Back in the day, we spoke face to face. We wrote letters and notes. When our friend’s parents answered the phone, we respectfully addressed them and politely enquired about our friends. We spoke in complete sentences. Today, technology has completely turned this art of communication on its head. With most kids having some form of portable communication device – i.e. smartphone /iPod/iPad, they don’t find the need to have to speak at all.
Research has shown the average number of phone calls have dropped drastically while the numbers of text messages and Instant Messages have increased almost three fold. Even if they need to speak to each other, the good old fashioned “Let’s meet at my place, my mom has made cookies” has been replaced by “Let’s FaceTime/Skype”. Why, even a good oldfangled “Hi” has been replaced by the inevitable “Poke”.
Do I see a few raised eyebrows? Sure, technology has ironed out a lot of monotonous creases. No longer do we have to mull over the pages of a dictionary to check the right spelling. And when in doubt, we always have Wikipedia and Google (and others) to correct us. But my concern lies elsewhere. Most school-going kids these days are unable to string together a whole sentence without grammatical error. Strangely, they could probably convey the same sentence in less than 140 characters via an SMS, Twitter or Facebook status update. With auto-correct and online dictionaries, kids of today are much more reliant on technology for writing (or maybe I should say typing) than we used to be. Spellings have just become plain awful.
Kids, particularly the teenage groups, are showing a decreased ability of memory retention. From simple things such as phone numbers and special dates such as birthdays and other important occasions, kids (and adults too) are becoming increasingly reliant on their “faithful, on-hand technology” such as smartphones, laptops and tablets which often serve as memory aids or in some cases, their personal assistant (Yes, Apple – I’m talking about Siri). Whilst the act of utilizing technology to remember important occasions is not something to be entirely frowned upon, scientific research has shown time and time again, that those who rely almost completely on technology suffer deterioration in their cognitive abilities. Even Google co-founder Larry Page had mentioned in an article that research showed that our memory retained much lesser information when reading from a screen as opposed to reading the same thing from a physical book. Need I say more?
Frustration, Anger & Patience (or rather lack of)
When we were young, the terms frustration and short-tempered were often used to describe the teenage years, and with good reason. There were a lot of physical and emotional changes associated with the age group and hence time and again, boundaries were crossed and sometimes thrown out. However, it has been observed that pre-teen children these days, are victims of increased frustration and shortened fuses. It isn’t out of the ordinary to see kids as young as seven or eight flip their lid, when asked to do something as trivial as taking their plates to the sink after a meal. With regards to the patience element, I suppose it’s not just kids, but even adults. I mean back in the days when the Internet was in its nascent stages of dial-up, we were ok with having to wait the better part of 10 minutes for a basic page to load. These days, with technology having forged ahead, kids do not even know what “slow” means when it comes to technology. The amount of times they refresh a browser page or their Facebook page is a clear indication that the virtue of patience is on the decline.
Let’s be clear – I am not against technology and its use in day-to-day activities. Yes, technology has its upsides. Kids today know where to get the information. They are able to harness technology effectively, be it for the school essay homework or for their science project. Technology has helped make them more independent than our generation was, as kids. But there are always two sides to any argument, and I’m merely suggesting that excessive exposure to technology, especially for kids during their formative years, will not be without its drawbacks.
The simplest thing we can do is to ensure that we, as parents, use our sound judgment to ensure our kids use technology as a tool to survive and flourish in this era, but not at the expense of their basic inherent social skills
Now, to end on a lighter note, I’d like to ask all of you to attempt something – whenever you find a few spare minutes.
Try and “write” your next article or blog post in a book or sheets of paper. Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh. Try and write a page of something, maybe even try to copy an article from the newspaper. Try writing it continuously without taking a break, sort of like writing an exam. For most of us, after a few lines, our arms will start to ache. Might be in varying shades of pain, but it will ache. Now think why?
You’re right – It’s simply because we don’t write as much as we used to. It’s all about typing, touch-screen pinching and swiping; that’s what we’re so used to, that we’ve completely lost touch with the art of writing. Our arm/hand muscles don’t get that much of a work out as they used to. Now think of the current and future generation of kids. They are already adept at using the touch screen to type and their fingers often fly through the keyboard keys. Imagine how they could possibly tackle a 3-hour examination (assuming that it is still three hours) where they have to write their answers. Their little arms probably hurt a lot more than ours; after all they’ve been using touch screens and keyboards from birth, and pens/pencils occasionally.
Do you reckon it’ll come as a surprise if their grades fall due to their inability to complete a physically written exam? After all not every exam will be a computer-adapted one. On that hopefully thought provoking note, I’ll end this here.
I would love to hear your views and comments, even arguments. After all, we’re a sharing community of parents.
Sid Balachandran is a 30 something proud newbie dad who recently relocated back to India, after 7 years in London. He is a self-confessed techie, will-read-most-things-er, photograph-anything-er, love-to-travel-er and wannabe masterchef-er. He is the “carefree, relaxed and spontaneous” yin, to his wife’s “meticulous, practical and perfectionist” yang character. Though academically an engineer and a product manager by profession, he strongly believes that eventually at some point his “creative” side will lead him to his true calling. Meet him at http://www.iwrotethose.com