Globe and Mail Editorial,January 25, 2010
Technology is enslaving a generation of children and teenagers, and parents are capitulating to it. They do not know where the Pied Piper of video games, cellphones, Wii games, iPods and TVs is leading their children. And there is little evidence that they care to know. Childhood is now an agglomeration of screens, rather than being given over to free play.
Nearly every waking moment is a screen moment, at least in the United States, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Canada may not be quite there, but it is heading in that direction. Young people eight to 18 spend an average of seven hours and 38 minutes a day on one screen or another, which adds up to more than 53 hours a week, or longer than the typical workweek. And those figures do not even include texting, which accounts for another one hour and 35 minutes among pupils from Grade 7 to 12. (Multitasking means the children are actually receiving nearly 11 hours of media use during their 7:38.)
Who is in control here? Not the parents. Only about half of them set limits on computer use. Not the young people, either. They have an illusion of being in control. But it seems more likely that the technology controls them. By now most children are in a technology-induced stupor. ‘I feel like my days would be boring without it,’ a 14-year-old who sends 500 texts a day told the New York Times. The old cry of the petulant child – ‘I’m bored!’ – need never be uttered. Seventy per cent have a TV in their bedroom. Boredom has been banished; children’s minds are occupied, second to second.
But at what price? The price of unstructured play. (An obligatory definition would normally be inserted here for anyone under 18 reading this, except that the Kaiser survey found children spend an average of three minutes reading the newspaper. They aren’t likely to be reading this.) And this is no small price. It is through unstructured or free play that children make sense of themselves and their world. A childhood without free play is not childhood.
Parents who allow technology to devour their children’s childhoods are abdicating their role. They need to rise up and take back their children’s childhoods. They might begin by doing to their children’s screens, in a figurative sense, what the character Precious (in the current movie of the same name) does to her stupefied mother’s television set: Smash it.