By eight o’ clock most mornings at least two of my four children are in front of the only two screens in the house.There is a computer and an old TV without receivers on which videos and DVDs can be played. Whichever child is first up rushes to the computer, next up chooses a DVD. When the final two children emerge from under their duvets, they come to me complaining that they have “nothing to do.” They have plenty of toys and there are any amount of distractions to amuse them, but such is the power of the screen they find any alternative suggestions “boring.”
I often wonder how this state of affairs came to pass. Though I use the computer to blog and email, on the whole I loathe screens; I have no mobile phone let alone a Smartphone so how have my children been seduced by the power of screen-based entertainment? I am certainly not guilt-free in this; like most parents I have often been relieved that tired babies and obstreperous toddlers can be soothed by CBeebies and will sit quietly for long enough to allow me to prepare dinner in peace. I haven’t deliberately fallen in to the trap of using screens as babysitters but unfortunately it is all too easy. In the nuclear family, there is no-one to whom one can hand over the baby; the carer at home has to do it all and the computer and TV screen fill a much-needed gap, but in the long term it cannot be doing our children any good.
This week it has been reported that a four-year old has been having compulsive behaviour therapy after becoming increasingly “distressed and inconsolable” when her iPad was taken away. Her use of the iPad had escalated over the course of a year and she was using it up to four hours a day. Removal after four hours resulted in an iTantrum.
This is not to mention the number of teenagers suffering with Repetitive Strain Injury from continual texting and playing on computer games. One lecturer reported how his most recent students press his doorbell with their thumbs. Last month the neuro-scientist Susan Greenfield told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that this new “cyber-lifestyle” is rewiring our brains and we need to acknowledge that there is an issue. Nicholas Carr in his book ‘The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains’ says that “loss of concentration and focus, division of our attention and fragmentation of our thoughts is changing how our mind works, creating shorter attention spans and making reading harder by destroying the linear and literary mind.” And this in our iNanny homes is only one possible effect on our children’s development; we still don’t know the long-term effect of exposing them to Wi-Fi radiation.
But do our children learn by example? In most households both parents are constantly plugged in to their mobile phones, alerted when texts arrive; many obsessively check Facebook pages and are rarely available to give children their full attention. As Jane Thynne in The Guardian, wrote “technology embraces our children, like ourselves, in a warm electronic sea, and the tide of it comes ever higher.”