I spent many an hour playing outdoors with my friends without a care in the world, apart from what time I needed to be back home for tea. I often wonder what my own kids will remember about their childhood 20 years from now – will it be supposedly quality time spent with their families at the dinner table whilst all are hunched over their devices, or playground chatter about the latest Instagram or Snapchat posts.
Cynical I know, but probably not that far from the truth. Children now rely on technology for the majority of their play, whether it be at home, in the car or when they’re at friend’s houses. The average age for a child to have their first smartphone is now just 10.3 years old . Even schools can now claim to have enough iPads for an entire class of 30 pupils.
Technology has been creeping up on all of us over the last 10 to 15 years, affecting our lives in different ways, with some people embracing it more than others. Generation Z don’t know a life without technology, with many being able to swipe an iPhone before they could walk. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re remembered as the generation of LOLs, retweets and selfies.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a technophobe, far from it; but it’s hard to ignore the detrimental effect that technology is already having on our kids’ lives. Children’s fitness levels are now declining by 4.3 per cent a decade globally (fitness is measured using a ‘bleep test’ to look at how fast kids can run between two points in a decreasing amount of time) . This is undoubtedly due to the fact that our kids are foregoing playing in the park and tree climbing to spend more time on sedentary activities such as computer games and social media. Even more worryingly, games consoles are now thought to cause arthritis like symptoms in younger children .
Putting aside for one minute the health risks for children who binge on technology; what about the damage this addiction to being connected is having on the family unit? Unwittingly or otherwise, we have given our kids immense freedom to be connected to the internet, but often without any guidelines or barriers in place. If parents don’t lay down the law and ask their children to log off and go outside to play, then why would they?
The truth is kids want and need parents to be parents. They know you’re in charge and they’re looking to you as an example for how they should behave. So, why not set some new ground rules that means the family spend some quality time together with all their devices switched off? It makes sense but isn’t always easy, especially when parents are themselves tapping away on a smartphone to check the latest celebrity gossip, football scores or Game of Thrones plotlines during dinner time.
Many of us will admit to keeping our kids quiet in waiting rooms or staving off boredom by allowing them to play on their phones in the car. But there are times and places where devices should be left at home. I’m amazed at the number of families you see on a night out in a family restaurant looking at their devices. If children are allowed unlimited access to devices from a young age, they will never understand or comply with the limits when they are imposed. Technology can play its part with setting and imposing limits by disconnecting every family member from the internet at the agreed time – and blocking the ability to circumvent it – whether they’re on the family’s Wi-Fi or using their inevitable mobile data plan.
Kids need us to set these limits and we need to follow by example. There’s no point in telling our kids that they need to put down their devices if we are still using them. Instead of virtually liking the latest baby photo or holiday snap on social media, we could, for instance, bake a cake or climb a tree together, or even (shudder the thought) have an actual conversation with them to find out if they’re happy or if anything is bothering them.
As families, we need to change how distracted we are becoming by what’s going on in the connected world and reconnect ourselves with the people around us. Let’s get back to bringing the physical family unit back together again, and make technology our ally to achieve this.