At no other time in history has technology dominated our lives like it does today. Most families own a television and computer, and many of life’s everyday activities involve the use of technology. As we live life at a mighty pace in this modern high-tech world, very few stop to ask, “Is modern technology serving our children well?”
Sue Palmer in a recent article published in the Sunday Mail, raised some serious questions regarding the well-being of children in our western society. She asserts that we are raising a “toxic generation” – young people “in crisis, caught in a toxic brew of the worst excesses of modern life”. Activities such as shared family meals, outdoor play, and social interaction with a diverse community have been replaced by computer games and television. “Amid burgeoning wealth and technological advances, too often we are producing a generation of dysfunctional, aggressive, burnt-out junior causalities.”
I was recently astounded to read an article in our local paper regarding a child care centre that has introduced computer lessons as part of its curriculum. Four and five-year-old students are given weekly lessons and the “opportunity to learn about the world of computers and the internet.” A proud mother spoke of her delight in receiving an email from her son while she was at work telling her about his morning activities and sending his love.
Another local preschool was also reported to have set up its own website to display their artwork and photos to the broader community. Their preschool teacher was quoted as saying that introducing computers to students at such a young age “improved hand-eye coordination, problem-solving and thought processing skills”. Whatever happened to good old ball games and social interaction with classmates?
Parents and schools are under increasing pressure to fully “prepare” children to embark on life in the “real” world. However I am not convinced that the early introduction of computers and modern technology into young lives is a good foundation on which to build.
Many parents feel justified in allowing their children some exposure to television. Some parents believe that without TV viewing their children are missing out on valuable learning or that they are raising young people who will find it difficult to “fit in” with modern life. Some limits may be placed on children’s television viewing with only children’s programs and documentaries being allowed.
In my own experience and experimentation with television, I know that all too familiar need for some ‘head space’ or time out from parenting. Unfortunately, at times television has been used in our homes as the “electronic babysitter”.
In our attempts to meet our own needs and to raise happy, healthy children have we stopped however to consider the real cost of not finding other alternatives?
Australian children on average watch two and a half hours of television per day. At this rate, they are exposed to 23,000 commercials per year. Many of these ads are for processed foods such as lollies, cereals and soft drinks as well as toys.
Exposure to television also introduces many new concepts and potentially violence into young minds. In a major US study, researchers confirmed what many had suspected for a number of years. Children who witness continual acts of violence on television are more likely to act in aggressive ways, become desensitised to acts of violence, harbour fears of being a victim of violence and have a higher tendency towards violent and aggressive behaviour later in life.
Life in front of the television denies children the opportunity for physical play. Time outdoors is vital for children’s well-being and development. Sedentary activity neglects young children’s innate need to move and explore. Meaningful, interactive play is important to allow children exploration of the world around them and social opportunities with others.
When television is introduced into this play arena, it means that play often becomes imitative rather than imaginative. Creative energy is overtaken by a narrow range of content for children to use in their play.
“Many programs present a world filled with violence and evil, where ‘bad guys’ threaten the safety of the ‘good guy’. An underlying message of instability and threat is repeated over and over again… giving children the impression of a threatening and unsafe world where danger is never put to rest.”
These experiences undermine children’s positive belief in the world and do not equip children with the skills and abilities to successfully negotiate conflict in their lives.
A friend of mine often refers to the “computer mentality” when discussing people’s approach to life and our need for quick fixes and easy answers. Like many, we share the disillusionment that computers and high technology is contributing to the creation of a better world. We often wonder if computers are creating robots instead of children. Or are they another reflection of our increasing pattern to turn to external tools to help us live our lives rather than turning to our own internal resources?
Nearly everything we do today involves the use of technology. Computers are often seen as a necessary tool in equipping our children to live in the modern world. Yet, are we forgetting to fully resource children with real-life experiences that far better prepare them to deal with the modern world than using technology itself.
Lowell W. Monke draws attention to the powerful tool that a computer is, and stresses that children need considerable preparation prior to even beginning to use such equipment. “Preparation does not necessarily warrant early participation. Indeed, preparing children and young people quite often involves strengthening their inner resources, – like self-discipline, moral judgment, and empathy – before giving them the opportunity to participate.”
We often take for granted the power of a computer and the damage that can be done with the stroke of a key. Harm can be inflicted upon another, as participant’s interactions are isolated behind a keyboard and do not often reflect meaningful connection. Valuable work can be destroyed or defaced without adequate protection.
Authentic real-life experiences are a vital foundation on which to build strong, healthy young people. From this rich basis, we are more fully prepared to live responsible, fulfilling lives in which we think and act from our own sense of moral judgement and compassion. Young people are ever more mobile, and will choose to live where life is most matching of their needs. 
Food for thought:
When we inundate our children’s lives with computers, television and high technology we negate the opportunity of real experiences that develop an inner strength to fully contribute to a modern world. We layer them with artificial situations, mass marketing and violent stimuli in which to grow their understanding of the world.
Today, more than ever we need creative young men and women who have the compassion, trust, respect and moral judgement to face the moral and ethical dilemmas that lay before them. We need deep connection with our children and young people that truly calls forth the natural emergence of their innate capacities. We need to create a society of people that look within to cope with the demands of modern life rather than to external tools.
In the words of Lowell W. Monke, “the irony of post-modern (society) is that preparing children for a high-tech future requires us to focus our attention more than ever before on the task of understanding what it means to be human, to be alive, to be part of both social and biological communities – a quest for which technology is increasingly becoming not the solution but the problem.”