My cool life as a cool kid
I grew up walking to school and back. I chased my sisters around the block until after sunset. We had a TV with no remote. It had 3, sometimes 4, channels which if the picture became grainy, could be fixed by finding the perfect position for the bunny ears antenna. We made tents in the living room under chairs with bed linen. We ruled the street we lived on. We were a little gang, fighting each other and the neighbours’ kids for territory. Territory on which to skip rope or ride our bikes. We didn’t have the luxuries of today’s kids. No DVD players, no Xbox, no Ipads. But in our rough and tumble world of freedom, the boundaries of our imaginations were limitless. Stimulation did not come packaged. We made up our own magic, characters and stories. We acted out, what we believed to be, epic theatre in the garden or in the bath. We entertained ourselves and each other. We had to survive each other and learn to make our own voices heard in the pack. We didn’t get offered much chances. We had to take chances. We had to have courage.
The World becomes a Gadget
“Let others praise ancient times. I am glad I was born in these.” – Ovid. I am one of four sisters, sandwiched in the middle, one of twins. I count myself lucky to be part of the last batch that came out the ‘old world’. I was a kid without a cellphone, the internet or DSTV. As a teenager and young adult the technological landscape changed exploded around me and like the rest of the world I loved it. I love it still. I totally appreciate the advantages of modern life. I have friends all over the world and with minute by minute Facebook, text and email access via my Iphone, we can access each other’s lives at the slide of a touch screen. I can run my business from any coffee shop. Information on anything useful (or not) is a Google search away. Technology is magic. But with all of the benefits of modern life, I wonder how much the experience of being a child has changed. For the better or for worse. But changed, it has. The Pulitzer prize finalist Nicholas Carr talks about how the internet and the way we digest information has changed the way our brains function in “The Shallows.” The book makes me sit upright in my bed. An interesting book review here http://techliberation.com/2010/06/01/book-review-nicholas-carr%E2%80%99s-the-shallows/ and here http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/sep/11/shallows-internet-changing-way-think
An easy Modern World – good or bad?
On the obvious upside, like me, today’s kids have instant access to information, music and films. The video games and computer games are advanced and stimulate certain mental developments. This site on Neuroanthropology says there are benefits. http://neuroanthropology.net/2009/06/02/can-videogames-actually-be-good-for-you/ to video and computer games for kids. Any five year old in the middle and upper classes are more handy with an Ipad than I am. I bet modern technology will have huge advantages for today’s children as they grow up to be the adults of tomorrow. They truly are the masters of modernity. Not us. Not the grown-ups. But my question is whether today’s kids are given enough opportunity to grow organically as the social and emotional beings that they also are. Trial and error. Successes and failures. Rough and Tumble. Tears and laughter. Make believe. Making up worlds and stories and games. Making up your own rules and rewards. Being crazy, being creative.
What to ‘pack them’ for the future
The world is undoubtedly changing. Advancing at an alarming pace. So much to benefit from it. Information, technology, travel. But it is a very different world from the one I grew up in not too long ago, to be a child in. There are also huge uncertainties about our financial and political futures. Machines are replacing jobs. Economies fail. Powers shift.
In this world of tomorrow, of which we have little certainty, what do our children need most? How we do we arm them best for a changing and uncertain future? Access to education, knowledge and information? Definitely. Technology and modern thinking? Certainly. But tomorrow’s grown-ups also need a sense of their individuality, self-esteem and the courage and creativity to cope with a rapidly changing world. They need the confidence to communicate their sense of selves with clarity. They need flexibility. The need imagination. They need what we have shrugged off as ‘softer skills’ for decades but are now being given more and more importance by leading thinkers. All you ever need to know on the matter to be watched here: http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html Children need to be able to dream up new and wonderful futures yet to be imagined by us.
A very real envisaged future: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/24/technology/economists-see-more-jobs-for-machines-not-people.html. A child needs to take in creative stimulation, process and give output. Creative dialogue with themselves and others is a crucial muscle to grow and develop. Critical discussion today focuses on softer skills carrying more weight in the world of tomorrow. The service, care and teaching industries will be far more (financially and otherwise) valued in the future than it is today. Read more on this from http://raceagainstthemachine.com/. “Race against the Machine” by Brynjolfsson and McAfee is a must read.
Don’t stress – but find ways to play
A good article to consider from the British Telegraph: ‘Children should “feel the grass under their feet” rather than play addictive computer games which can harm their mental development, a leading scientist has said.’
You might not be able to let your child play in the park until it is dark or skip rope in the street as easily as my parents could allow me as a kid. Having their lives supervised, safe and structured has become the best option. All I’m saying is next time you have the option, turn on some music, crank it up and do some free style dancing with your kid. While you’re at it, jump on the couch and make up a story from scratch before bed time.