A few years ago our family purchased one of those gaming console entertainment systems. It was only after a great deal of soul searching that I finally agreed to this. In retrospect, at the time I was probably only swayed by clever marketing which promised that it would make my kids (and I) fitter and smarter (yeah right). Four years on, and it really goes without saying, but I definitely won’t be upgrading to the latest and greatest version. Personally, I’d rather toss the whole thing in the trash and return to life as it was pre-gaming console. However, outnumbered as I am, I’ll need to be somewhat content with placing some serious restrictions on its use.
I’ve always been aware of the potential that technology (gaming systems in particular) has for drawing children away from reading. My conversations with parents, in my role as a teacher, has alluded me to numerous negative implications of this technology. More personally, about 20 years ago I had a relationship breakdown, when my then partner decided that he liked his gaming system more than me (well that was the message I got). In the time that these systems have been around I’ve noticed a couple of important things. Firstly, I observed boys, rather than girls, are more inclined to an addiction to these things. I also noticed that boys and girls tend to use the machines differently, with boys gaining enjoyment from the machine when used in a solitary manner (yes even when they are playing online with their real or virtual friends). Girls, on the other hand, seem to enjoy using the systems most when they are physically with others. In other words they tend to be more social in their play. In my mind at least it explains why I’ve noticed boys (although girls can do this too) withdrawing from all other activities with gaming dominating their waking hours in preference to what they really should be doing (reading, doing homework, sleeping and eating).
However, gaming consoles are really just one example of how technology is dragging our children (boys especially) away from books. My 11 year old daughter recently purchased one of those hand held things which isn’t actually a mobile phone but may as well be since it does everything that a mobile phone does without actually being a phone. She thinks it’s awesome. She can chat ‘real time’ with her friends (as long as they have the same device) without the expense of a contract or phone bills. My husband is more cynical, suggesting that what is really happening here is a major corporation ‘training’ our kids to be the technology consumers (of their brand) in the future. It doesn’t end here though, there is no limit it seems to the end of technology which is vying for our kid’s attention and ultimately reducing the amount of time they have for reading. Of course the people who produce this stuff are sensitive to the concerns of parents. This is the reason why there are so many apps and toys on the market claiming to engage our kids more in the activity of reading. While some of these things are innovative with some educational merit, a good deal of them only seem to prime our kids for using more technology (and reading less).
I’m not suggesting that as parents we need to go all Steiner, returning to the pre-digital world. That would be unrealistic and would hardly prepare our children to engage effectively in the world today (or the world of tomorrow). However, what is needed is an awareness of the issues coupled with parental imposed limitations on the use of these devices. A parent once complained to me “I can’t seem to get my son to do his homework let alone read.” When I asked what the child was doing when he should be doing these things her response was simply, “Oh, he’s playing x-box.” Too many parents assume that their children will be able to self-regulate their use of these devices. Most of them can’t. It is simply beyond the cognitive capacity of their developing brains. For other parents it is too hard to set limits and too easy to placate their children by giving them what they want (rather than what they need). I’d like to say it’s easy, but is that would be untrue. However, sometimes as a parent you need to ride the tide of tantrums and confiscate the device or hide the game controller. In this case the benefits far outweigh the pain.