A co-worker passed along this article, “So Young, So Gadgeted,” in which the journalist asks “at what age should children get their first cellphone, laptop or virtual persona?” The article goes on to discuss a study developed by Jean Piaget, Swiss psychologist, who identified four stages of cognitive development by watching his own children — and hope to provide guidance to 21st century parents.
This is a topic that’s been on my mind for quite a while. As a result of my daily work, I can’t tell you how many stories I find (or get forwarded) that involve youth and technology. There’s the good, the bad, and of course, the really ugly.
The problem is, I think my generation was spoiled as kids. My first “computer” was an Apple II E. I use the term computer lightly as really it served no purpose other than to play the “Frogger” or “Gummi Bears” or even the occasional math game for “learning.” Yes, we had Atari systems, which then was traded in for a Nintendo system and so on. We knew what cassette tapes were and the pain of fast-forwarding and rewinding. We knew how to make a proper mixtape, then gradually learned to love CDs and who can forget the discman. Yes, we did carry books of CDs with us when we traveled rather than one tiny do-it-all device.
We didn’t spend countless hours in front of the computer creating myspace pages or playing with Webkinz. We didn’t post home videos of (mostly illegal) acts on Youtube or harassed classmates through other social networking sites.
So what did we do? Well, we played. Outside. I know, a novel concept, right? We were kids. We learned to get along with each other (even when we didn’t want to) and allowed everyone to play. We didn’t have cell phones until high-school (yes, the “Zack Morris” phone) and guess what (most of us) never got lost. We were able to find our way home before night fall without our parents panicking. They might not have known exactly where we were all day long, but they had a general idea, and a quick list of friends’ phone numbers aka “emergency” numbers to dial if needed.
I’m 26 years old. I don’t mean this to sound like I lived in the stone age because that is far from the truth, but looking back I think we had it best. My generation straddled the line between “old-school” childhood and “21st century” technology. It was all about balance. We were capable of learning the importance of “teamwork” through sports as well as all of these new gadgets as they were introducted, mastered them, and now educate our peers and even our elders on them. Trust me, I spend all day trying to convince clients as to why they should look to the online world and believe in the work we do, but articles that breakdown childhood development in relation to gadgets and gizmos still manages to upset me.
Perhaps I’m a bit sentimental or maybe a bit biased (probably both), but I really don’t think my generation would do the things these kids do today online. We had a more balanced upbringing where consequences were made known outright. Email/text/post naked (or half-naked) photos of ourselves? Ok, maybe a select few. Harass kids through social networking sites? Not really, we pretty much knew our enemies. Video tape beatings, thefts, and other illegal activities? No way.
“These kids need a hobby. An after school activity.” Sadly, what started as a quick retort whenever a colleague sent me a new story on a scandal involving today’s youth and social networking sites has quickly become an all to common refrain.
What do you think? Should kids be introduced to cellphones and the internet at such young ages? Do you think it’s positively or negatively effecting them? How about social skills? Grammar has been thrown out the window – it’s only a matter of time until they re-write textbooks to include “text speak.”