What Happened to Childhood?

I found this article on Gawker the other day. Comedian Louis C.K. appeared on the Conan O’Brien show a few years ago and spoke about his feelings on smartphones, why he hates them.

I don’t hate them. I bloody love them. And the internet, which I feel is probably more what he was attacking than just a fancy phone.

But something he said really resonated with me and I have been unable to forget it or even just stop thinking about it. It’s one of those things that we don’t consider because it was never an issue for any of us growing up. We were only introduced to the internet as teenagers and young adults, when we had already had the opportunity to develop our emotional psyche.

This is what he said:

 

I think these things are toxic, especially for kids…they don’t look at people when they talk to them and they don’t build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it’s ’cause they’re trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, ‘you’re fat,’ and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go, ‘oh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that.’ But they got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write ‘you’re fat,’ then they just go, ‘mmm, that was fun, I like that.’

 

I underlined a sentence in there. That is the sentence, in particular, which has stuck with me.

They don’t look at people when they talk to them and they don’t build empathy.

I read the Daily Mail every day (oh, don’t give me that look. I know you do too.) and I’ve seen many articles recently and over the last few years that speak about cyber bullying amongst children and young teenagers. Fourteen-year-old’s are hanging themselves in the bathroom over nasty things that some kid in a different country, whom they have never and will never meet, said to them in an online forum.

We talk about keyboard pirates and trolls and there are so many adults, cowardly arseholes, who find faux bravery behind the relative anonymity of a screen but we as adults are equipped to deal with these morons. We are equipped to deal with nastiness and bullying, having experienced it as children on the playground. We learnt to be nice to people, we learnt that we say to people has an impact on them. We learnt to argue intelligently and with purpose.

We learnt empathy.

I often think about the internet and the digital age is affecting the generation below me. Some months ago, and this happens all the time, I went out to a restaurant in Hout Bay with my parents which has been around since I was a child. And I remember going there as a kid with friends, and all us children would either be building things out of dough and sending them off to be baked in the pizza oven. Little snowmen and arbitrary balls which we’d insist on either eating (burnt on the outside, raw on the inside) or proudly displaying in our rooms for weeks until they turned rock hard and cracked.

When we weren’t using our hands and imaginations to sculpt dough, we were running wild around the restaurant. Swinging on the jungle-gym or playing on-on. We were running and jumping, learning how our bodies moved. And when we fell, we got up again. We were confident in our abilities. We learnt to climb and to leap and twist and turn. And we learnt to lose and we learnt to share. We laughed and we fought and we made friends. We learnt to share, to stand up for ourselves and to make friends with total strangers who just wanted to join in on our game.

I sat at this restaurant and I watched a table of four children, from two families, ranging in age from six to twelve. Each of them had their own tablet or smartphone to play on, I’m guessing (hoping) that perhaps they were borrowed from mom and dad. Maybe not. I know toddlers and cats with their own iPads. They were playing games.

They were not talking to each other.

They were not moving, aside from the hands.

The backs were slumped over their devices.

They weren’t using their imaginations.

They weren’t fighting.

They weren’t laughing.

They weren’t losing or sharing.

They weren’t doing anything.

And my heart broke, watching them. Going for dinner with my parents and all our friends are some of the best memories I have of my childhood. Running around wine farms, sitting at the counter in Papino’s and telling the pizza-maker stories from our day.

I read another article a while back which spoke about how vital it was going to be for our children to be computer literate by the time they hit junior school. How it would be a disadvantage to them if they were not comfortable with technology, as this will not only be used in the classrooms but will also be essential in the business world. And I don’t disagree with this at all. My concern is, where do we find the balance? How  do we encourage our children to become emotionally and socially secure human beings if their noses are stuck to a screen all day?

This same article also said, and it’s another thing which has really stuck with me, that in twenty years time the most successful young adults are going to be the ones who know how to separate themselves from a screen. Who know how to make eye contact, have a firm handshake and are confident in themselves away from the crutch that is modern technology.

I’m not a parent. Perhaps one day I will be and then these questions will become mine to figure out the answer to. Today, it scares me that because I am not a parent I have no control over how the next generation turns out. I think it’s a scary time to be a parent right now. raising children in an age of technology that is evolving faster than anything we have perhaps ever experienced before. There is no precedent, no mistakes to learn from. We have no idea what these kids are going to be like when they grow up.

So parents, good luck. Try not to fuck it up. No pressure.

5 thoughts on “What Happened to Childhood?

  1. I think about this stuff all the time. I hate how my dad signed my little brother up for Facebook when he was about 10. How my parents let him have a blackberry at that age (i refused to add my brother on BBM), and how he now has an iPad for no other reason than “he wanted one”. I think it gets difficult when your kids’ friends have this stuff – its what they do on play dates, and then your child wants one too. I dunno, its tricky waters hey in this digital age… Despite the kids you saw, I’m pretty sure there are tons of parents out there teaching their kids the right balance. There’s some hope in that.

  2. It is difficult. I mean, I was that age my parents refused to buy me a Furby and I was distraught. So I understand the desire to fit in. It is about balance. If an adult sat at a dinner table playing Candy Crush on their iPhone, I would consider that exceptionally rude. Kids are being allowed to shut themselves off from their peers, they aren’t being taught to interact. I mean, at a restaurant with three other kids there is absolutely no reason to be sitting hunched over an iPad. None.

  3. My daughter is 7 and 50% of her friends have Blackberry’s and iphone’s. She has a little dinky cellphone (because my mother gave her one) she doesn’t ever use it and she is not allowed to play games on her phone or on mine. I have a Tablet and she gets to work paint and word. no games allowed in my house at all. Build a puzzle, play with rocks and fall over. I might be placing my daughter at a disadvantage, but my kids still run in restaurants and have normal conversations. I feel that I will teach her about technology when she needs or when she is able to use it.

  4. Reblogged this on The Stiletto Mum and commented:
    Here is my comment: My daughter is 7 and 50% of her friends have Blackberry’s and iphone’s. She has a little dinky cellphone (because my mother gave her one) she doesn’t ever use it and she is not allowed to play games on her phone or on mine. I have a Tablet and she gets to work paint and word. no games allowed in my house at all. Build a puzzle, play with rocks and fall over. I might be placing my daughter at a disadvantage, but my kids still run in restaurants and have normal conversations. I feel that I will teach her about technology when she needs or when she is able to use it.

  5. It’s a tough one and it bothers me that we don’t have face to face conversations as much as we used to because we (adults included) are always busy on their phones or tablets!!!

    I believe balance is key and parents need to ensure that.

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