Kids Growing up with Tech. Do you have a ‘Screenager’?

When your kids grow up with Technology. Do you have a ‘Screenager’?

It’s occurred to me most recently with the birth of Lottie, but since either of them came into the world they’ve been immersed with technology pretty much from day one. It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately. How this impacts children and their interaction with the world.  Does it change their behaviour? Their attitude? Mia had camera’s on her in the Nursery watching her sleep soundly at night from birth – in fact moments of her birth were recorded in 4k! She now lives in a soft cosy world of being able to talk to the lights to switch them on (thanks to Phillips Hue & Google Assistant), everything is a touch screen and she can ask the Google assistant (piped in from every room in the house) to do anything from play music to put something on the TV.

It’s her ‘normal’ but I realise it’s not really normal is it? Watching her jab confusingly at a Blackberry Bold 9000 series asking Daddy why it’s not touch screen made me realise the world I grew up in by comparison was very different.

During the War….

As a Technology professional, I grew up in the best time. During the 80’s I experienced 8 bit tape based computing, I remember first launching Windows for Workgroups 3.1 from a command line, typing in lines of code to build a game of pinball in BASIC, and when CD’s had to be put into a plastic caddy to use them in a CD Rom player the size of a small country! During the 90’s the growth and development of technology was huge, from dial up Internet, to CD systems for 16 bit consoles (anyone remember Sewer Shark on the Sega Mega CD?) to the evolution of the mobile phone. I went from Tape, to Mini Disc, to CD, (ironically now to Vinyl) and from VHS to DVD and now who even uses physical media? Going through this growth slowly has very much allowed me to grow with technology, adapt to it and consume it in a comfortable manner. I’ve become used to it because it happened in a fairly linear way comparatively speaking.

Where we’re going – we don’t need roads!

Mia & Lottie went straight to a Star Trek world straight from the womb. She has her own iPad, navigates effortlessly through IOS12, (no one swipes up to reject a call quicker than a 6 year old watching YouTube) and is entirely expectant of on-demand and infinite content from Sky Q in the very best high definition 4k on screens the size to dwarf a football stadium. She accesses content everywhere, including the car and expects a lag free low latency experience just because…she’s a kid and that’s all she knows.

When the Drugs don’t work.

What does this constant access to highly capable technology actually do to their brains though? I’ve watched Mia become quite aggressively impatient when things don’t work and also noticed her develop a sense of ‘mania’ and anxiety when playing games such as Hello Neighbour, Roblox or Red Ball 4. These software titles are designed to make players feel this way. Constantly nudging & ca-jouling users with a complex effort/reward system seemingly managing acutely these chemical dopamine high’s when she wins a level or defeats a boss but also serving up low’s of depression and anxiety when she fails an agonisingly tricky puzzle. She lobs her iPad to the floor in a fit of rage which although lasts for approx 30 seconds, she then jumps back on the horse to do it all again.

Exposing them to these rushes of emotion so young I do wonder about how they view the world and how their brains become programmed subsequently? We do try to ensure they both take part in the broader world and we do our best to limit screen time as part of an overall strategy to ensure they don’t compensate one thing for another. For example would be Mia being socially incompetent because she’s spending too much time shooting 9 year old Chinese kids in the head with a Crossbow in Fortnite! We’d get her outside more! Whilst we’re not seeing anything but great progress from the kids I wonder if there’s long term psychological damage to exposing them to so much so young?

Can you see me now?

Object permanence is the thing whereby when a young toddler can’t see something right in front of them, it simply doesn’t exist. It’s why Peek a boo works so well. The constant surprise creates that adorable smile which simply doesn’t happen when they grow up. So watching confusion & anxiety pour over Lottie’s face when I FaceTime home from London or Spain, (or wherever else I tend to be in the world) because she recognizes the sound, the sight but can’t physically see me is something I wonder whether it does more harm than good. Sure she smiles when she ‘gets it’ and can see the familiar sight of her Daddy, but when the screen goes off and I end the call poor mummy get’s 30 minutes of tears whilst her little brain wonders why her Daddy has just vanished into thin air. Is this progress? Will Lottie assume everyone has the capacity to appear & disappear at will as she grows up?

Another issue I’ve seen is how Technology, no matter how security conscious you are, exposes them to potentially bad situations really quickly. As Mia’s vocabulary, reading & spelling has improved, she can now search the Internet and read instructions & such results. That alone creates a problem. Her search History on YouTube kids is bizarre but not as bizarre as listening to her talk with a raised inflection because 90% of the content she watches is American. Like, could she be any more annoying!? I worry about safety too, especially when I caught her playing an MMORPG version of Roblox the other day, referring to the myriad of other players in the arena (with full two way voice switched on!) as her ‘friends’.

Becca works hard to control content restriction, but for every toggle-switched option there’s a work around and usually Mia will find it. I even heard a story from another parent where their child asked their Amazon Alexa how to ‘get round mummy’s iPad password’.

Then we’ve got the physical issues. Exposure to very high frequency near field 4g (and soon to be 5g). Exposure to light ranges in particular UV constantly on the eyes and at short range. Does this make them short sighted quicker?

Children are without a doubt growing up in a digital generation who are fully fluent and native and whilst I applaud getting Mia & Lottie exposed to the most industry standard technology in the shortest amount of time to allow their growth into school and adult life as pain free as possible (I certainly don’t want them to not be articulate when it comes to technology) we do ensure we balance this out with having some time out and ensuring other things are done and not just plonking them in front of a screen.

Is Childhood being ruined, or are things just evolving?

I don’t think technology ruin’s the ‘essence’ of childhood (as per a recent article I read in the Telegraph) but I do worry sometimes about how this generation will grow up. I worry about their abilities to interact if they haven’t had a balanced upbringing. Are they introverted in real life much preferring the behind-a-keyboard experience?

I teach Coding to 7-11 year olds as part of a STEM Ambassador Code Club program, and despite the fluency children now seem to have with tech, it’s only superficial. They don’t actually know how the WiFi they are using works, or how the touch screen which makes their iPad seem like magic actually function? I worry we’ll have a generation who can use technology but who don’t understand it! And I see it worryingly often.

For the first time ever, I consider a media plan for our home governing some rules into what the Children can and can’t do with technology. These rules should include things such as screen time allowance, content that they can’t consume, and I’d even go as far as switching off the Internet at night to stop them from staying up watching unboxing Videos!

What do you do with your kids? Are you worried? Are you tech savvy yourself or do you worry your kids will surpass you with their tech prowess and leave you vulnerable? Let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter (@mariodc)

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