The next decade: Embracing the screen

After a long and playful day at daycare, my 21-month old son, after greeting his mother with a cheery “Hi, ma-ma,” immediately started chanting “teedee, bookoo” as he does every time we walk through the front door of our house. For those uneducated in the slightly underdeveloped pidgin language of the pre-toddler population, “teedee, bookoo” means (in certain dialects), “If you would be so kind as to turn on the TV and start an episode of Blue’s Clues for me, I would greatly appreciate it, and I may even consider going to bed nicely for you if my wishes are granted.” He knows exactly how this is done, too. He’ll pick up the Xbox 360 controller, knowing to turn the console on by pressing the green button in the middle, and bring it to me, wildly exclaiming “Da-Da, teedee!” until I navigate to the “Play DVD” option on the dashboard, and play the Blue's Clues DVD of his.

You see, my son is a poster child of the new generation of geeklings. Ever since he was even remotely mobile, he gravitated towards technology and devices of all sorts. Phones, cameras, computers, you name it, he was into it. And he won’t have a knockoff Fischer-Price version of the tech, either. No, he needs the real thing. He wants to play with real laptops, real touchscreen smartphones, and he could confidently tell the difference between the authentic Dell XPS and the Mattel Laptop Learner since before he could eat independently. He can barely get two words to stick together in his mouth, yet he knows the how to “slide to unlock” a smartphone. He sits around in his own poopy (I’m a parent; I’m allowed to use words like that), yet he can turn the TV on and off with the remote control. It’s fascinating; it’s sometimes awe-inspiring.

Image credit: ABC

This used to scare me because we’re constantly bombarded with the culture around us that shuns the screen as a dangerous barrier to proper early childhood development. This idea has been a part of pop psychology since the early days of television, and especially since video games started inexplicably creeping up on the movie industry in terms of profit margins. As many parents started seeing their children becoming desensitized to ideas and behaviors that they themselves wouldn’t dream of involving themselves in, they turned their pointing fingers to the screen as the criminal that “ruined” their children. This antagonizing of the digital medium is as ingrained in our collective psyche as our careful aversion of fatty foods. It’s a necessary evil; something that should be enjoyed once in a while, but always in moderation, and always with a certain pang of guilt. Obviously, some feel these pangs more than others, but it’s still there nonetheless. Those of us in the IT industry can attest to the fact that when we tell our friends (with a certain sense of pride) that we spend more than 8 hours a day on front of a screen of some sort, we receive in return a look of pity, and sometimes even revulsion.

Then I read an article that Time magazine published in 2009. It said, shockingly, that there have really only been two proper scientific studies published that investigate the effects of television and infants over time. You’d think there would be books on the subject at this point. However, it seems that the hordes of parenting periodicals and pop psychologists are happy with the current fads in parenting decisions, accepting the opinion of the general public over hard science. Either way, according to the more recent of the two studies, there is no evidence that 1.5 hours of television a day for the first two years of a child's life will hurt the cognitive, motor, or verbal skills of that child by the time they turn three. The study actually turns the tables on the parents in their findings. You see, at first, there was a very clear correlation between the lower-performing children at age 3 and the amount of TV they watched during their first 2 years. However, the researchers soon came to the realization that when you include other environmental factors into the equation, like the education level and financial capability of the parents, the initial theory falls apart somewhat. The truth is, the study concludes, that many of the children who performed badly at age 3 were only watching TV in the first place because their parents didn’t have the ability or drive to involve themselves in the educational development of their child. They posit that a good portion of the kids that scored low probably would have scored just as low without the influence of the digital realm, simply due to lack of parenting and involvement. Television was found to be significantly detrimental only when it was an “outgrowth of other characteristics of the home environment that lead to lower test scores." The study didn’t go so far as to say that TV was definitely not unhealthy, but they were not ready to say that it was a bad thing. What they were able to say with confidence is that parenting plays a large role in the development of a child (shocking, right?).


Image Credit: Mademan.com

As we boldly head into the second decade of the 21st century, as technology becomes an ever more powerful influence on the development of our children and students, we can’t help but watch the next generation of nerdlings embrace the digital world as their comfort zone, their second nature and their portal to worlds yet unknown. Whether or not the old guard of society likes it, Generation LOL has embraced the screen, and has chosen to make peace with it. You can debate the evils of it all you want, but the truth is that ubiquitous connectivity isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and it’s about time we as a society came to terms with that.

Schools are already considering teaching typing alongside handwriting in the early grades, and are slowly embracing social media as a viable medium for education. We all know kids less than 10 years old that are more active on Facebook and other social networking portals than many adults we know. Just the fact that many children own a laptop or PC before they enter middle school is mind-boggling to many. Let's not make the same mistake that the previous generation always makes; let's face the fact that the next generation will be more integrated with the digital tools that we created for them than we will ever be, and that the same thing will likely happen to the generation that in time our children will bring forth. Let's not be afraid of it, and instead be proud.


Image Credit: ibabuzz.com

When my son brings me the Xbox 360 controller, with the clear understanding that he can press the buttons and control a disconnected object 10 feet away, it’s perfectly normal now. When he won’t play with a fake laptop because he enjoys the tactile sensation of the keyboard and the LCD glow of a backlit monitor, the past decade has taught me that this is just social progression at its best. When I worry that too much time looking at a screen will hurt him somehow down the line, I just remind myself that the world is coming to a point where looking at a screen for hours on end is the norm, and not a deviant behavior that should be discouraged. However, I also learned that no digital tool is inherently good for a child unless there is a parental force behind it, encouraging and empowering, to help use those tools correctly; parents who “lose their children to the TV” have only themselves to blame.

Neowin wishes its awesome, devoted and constant readership a safe and happy New Year, with the hope that the new decade brings success in everything from parenting to being parented, embracing the digital world to creating it, and everything in between.     

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