Early this year, a friend told me that his girlfriend’s daughter who was about 6 years old had been given an iPad for Christmas. I couldn’t help but compare this present with the type of ones I received when I was her age. And I found myself feeling really irritated. Maybe even a little angry! I asked myself why this gift wasn’t a doll or a pair of roller skates or something else more…. childlike? Why did one so young need to own something so sophisticated?
It was only when I became an adult that I realised just how short our childhood time is – only just over a decade from tot to teen. I felt that this innocent looking machine would effectively rob this little girl of some of her childhood. I actually felt sorry for her, and still do.
Computers seem quite sterile and samey to me compared with a child’s toys and imagination. Every minute a child spends on one is a minute wasted in my opinion. I think that youngsters should be creating a full and rich childhood by playing and role-playing and trying new things as much as possible. After all, they won’t be able to do things like climbing trees, going on a bouncy castle or throwing a teddy bears’ tea party when they are adults. In contrast, there is plenty of time for computers a bit later on in their life.
Trying to make a teenager imagine their childhood and adolescence without computers or mobile phones would be like trying to imagine ourselves growing up in a world without something like television or cars. As a young child in the eighties, I was barely exposed to a computer in primary school. I only first started using them on a regular basis at age 11 when I started secondary school. Even then, they were only basic, boxy efforts with floppy discs and no Internet.
It wasn’t until I started college at 16 that I was able to access the Web. And I was as old as 25 when I was finally able to surf it at home! I also hardly ever saw a mobile phone when I was growing up. I bought my first phone when I was 21, soon after they started to become common in the late nineties. The young people of today would no doubt be amazed by these revelations! But if I was given the chance, would I have had what some of them own today when I was a child? No. For the simple reason that I would not have wanted any computer gadgets distracting me and making me miss out on even a second of play.
I’m happy to have been a part of what could be called ‘the last i-gadget free generation!’ and this is why……
I guess I had a ‘typical’ eighties/nineties childhood. With no Internet and a lot less TV channels, we had to find other ways to entertain ourselves. Me and my brother had a variety of things to occupy us from humble pads of paper and crayons up to some of the most popular toys, games and books of the day. We had a couple of computer games consoles too, but not until we were older. However, sometimes the best things to play at were the simplest and cost nothing at all! After all, a child’s imagination has no bounds.
We would create an ‘assault course’ in our back garden, putting down old sheets to crawl under and objects to jump over and using a wooden bench propped up against a low wall to form a slide. We would play ‘robots’ by putting a cardboard box on our head with a face drawn on it and walking round with jerked movements. We would build a ‘fort’ by strategically placing sofa cushions on the sofa so that they formed walls and a roof. We created a guitar by stretching elastic bands over an empty ice cream tub and turned pans upside down to make a drum kit, with wooden utensils as drum sticks. And much, much more.
We also created a world of imagination, always using the phrase ‘let’s pretend that…..!’ We imagined that ourselves and our soft toy animals were ‘the richest family in the world.’ We made them speak in different voices and gave them different personalities. We also pretended that they were able to fly by pushing them around in the air. And we would often play together or with friends on the streets for hours. Even at school, there were toy ‘crazes’ at playtime and we also had ‘toy day’ at the end of term where we would all bring one in to share with our classmates. Everything back then was such simple, innocent, good fun.
Big Yellow Tea Pot by Matt Brown (CC BY 4.0)
Toys help little ones to learn and develop various skills. It is believed that the more of them a child owns, the more intelligent he or she is likely to be. They are also tools to create imaginary scenarios. So I can’t help but wonder if there will be a negative impact on the youngsters who prefer using a computer at home to playing with toys. Will they grow up to be less intelligent, less creative, less imaginative than previous generations of kids?
Psychologists already believe that some children are becoming less social because spending too much time on a computer isolates them from direct human contact. This could lead to psychological problems later on in their life. Toys, on the other hand, help kids to build and strengthen relationships with their siblings, friends and even parents/carers.
There are a few other things that bother me about children owning tablets and expensive phones:
1. I believe that they are generally unsuitable for this age group. Children break things! If a gadget is accidentally smashed, a potential consequence is small, sharp parts that could pose a danger to a little one. Also, a broken toy is a lot less expensive to replace than a gadget with a smashed screen.
2. Children are probably getting spoilt and not learning about the value of money if they are lavished with expensive items. A computer device or a mobile phone costs a fair amount of money and of course, they go out of fashion quickly because technology is ever-changing. This means that a child will lose interest in it and start begging their parent(s) for the latest model. If a parent has several children and feels pressured into buying them all a new mobile phone, tablet etc every year or two, then they will surely have a lot less money for more essential items. They could even get into debt because of it.
3. Some parents will not know what their children are looking up on the Internet if they have access to it, or who they might be talking to on there!
4. Using a computer for too long can cause headaches, vision problems, bad posture and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. It could also contribute to childhood obesity.
My friend’s revelation surprised me and got me wondering if I was completely out of touch. Did nearly all children now own gadgets intended for adults at an extraordinarily young age? According to the Internet a significant amount do, but not as many as I had expected. For the time being, at least.
I already had an idea that older children tend to shun more traditional toys and games in favour of computer games instead. That was starting to become apparent even when I was a ‘pre-teen.’ But I naively thought that all young children were still actively playing with toys and that these were still the ticket to a world of make-believe. It shocked me to read that some kids as young as 3 years old own a tablet! I would have thought that at this age, they would not be fully capable of using one.
I assume that children pester their parents for computer devices and phones either because of peer pressure or because they have seen an enticing advert for them. Surely not many parents would buy a small child an expensive device of their own free will if they could get away with just buying a toy?
I do agree with older children having mobile phones for safety reasons. It’s just unfortunate that they can’t be an old, basic call and text only version. They no doubt have to be top of the range so that kids don’t get bullied by their peers for having a ‘dinosaur phone’! Such fancy phones are likely to keep children’s eyes glued to them for a considerable amount of time.
I often see groups of teenagers not talking to each other because they are all too engrossed in what is being displayed on their phone screens. Is this also the case with some children in the playground?
I heard the phrase ‘They grow up so quickly these days’ even when I was little. So with all this modern technology, I suppose it makes sense that this generation appear to be growing up quicker than mine. The next one are likely to grow up quicker still. There have only really been a few ‘lucky’ generations of children who have enjoyed playing with the type of mass-produced toys that we know today.
It was only at the start of the 20th Century that they really started to take off and many popular ones did not make an appearance until the mid-20th Century. Now it appears that computers are gradually phasing them out. To be fair, kids do still play outside but there is no doubt that computer devices are becoming more appealing to them and making more of them stay indoors. Computers are slowly but surely taking over the human race and will be likely to replace toys altogether eventually. Tomorrow’s children will probably be content enough with a computer dominated society because they won’t know any different.
Even the next generation may no longer need toys after toddler age. Or maybe even parents! I imagine that there will be some some sort of parenting ‘App’ on their phones in the not so distant future!
Maybe I am just being old-fashioned and only a minority of people have similar views. I know that it is inevitable that things change and we have to adapt to new ways of life. I guess I will eventually come round to the fact but I may always think that it has been a change for the worst.
Like many adults, I wish I could go back to my childhood days. Being an adult is so dull in comparison. My world of make-believe is dead and gone, never to be resurrected. Sad as that is, I am grateful to have experienced it. It is a shame that it is a world that a lot of future children will probably never know.
But in a twist, that could also be the one good thing about children living like an adult before their time. As the saying goes: what you don’t have, you don’t miss.