November 13, 2009

Kids and the Internet: Please Respond

I was paging through some magazines yesterday and I came across two separate references to negative affects of the internet on children.  The first asserted that too many "gadgets" in the classroom have led to kids not having any manners; the second, from a teacher, claimed that because of internet and TV, children don't get enough practice in resolving their own conflicts and end up tattling to the teacher.

Now hold on just a minute.  I'll be the first to stand up and say that the prospect of raising children in a time of such rapid technological change is terrifying.  We don't yet know all the effects that growing up with internet and TV may have; we can be fairly certain that increased obesity is one of them.  But that's not my point here.  You can't just hop on the technology-blaming bandwagon to explain away childish behaviors.

Let's think about the first comment on "gadgets" in the classroom.  Too many gadgets?  Many schools I've substitute taught at don't even have a computer lab for the school, but instead have a handful of computers in the library for student use.  Most kids aren't staring at a computer all day at school, they're in a traditional classroom.  The person quoted in the magazine is seeing kids behaving like kids, which does involve some under-developed social skills and poor manners, and then blaming it on the biggest difference they see from their own childhood: technology.  Adults have spent hundreds of years blaming children's behavior on the latest trends instead of remembering their own childhood of mistakes and learning experiences.

What about the teacher's claim that children tattle more because time spent with technology has kept them from developing the social skills to solve their own problems?  I don't believe it for a second.  Elementary school students tattle because they rightly see the teacher as their social and behavioral guide as well as their academic educator.  Teachers of young students must spend a fair portion of their day dealing with such issues as hand-washing, keeping hands to yourself, being considerate of others, and otherwise shaping the child's ability to succeed in social situations.  Is it any wonder that insecure youngsters turn to their teacher a little too often, not trusting their own judgement?

A child's sense of right and wrong is also well developed by this stage, and they want justice for any offence to be handed down by the authorities.  They want affirmation that they have been wronged and they want the offender to be punished.  But they lack the critical thinking skills to decide what conflicts they can handle and when they should tell an adult.

Let's not point the finger at the internet, TV or cell phones when the finger should be pointed at the behavior in question.  Is a sullen teenager ignoring you while they text?  Well, sullen teenagers have found ways of ignoring adults for centuries, whether it is with a cell phone or with music played too loudly.  It is the behavior that is intolerable, not the cell phone.

I'd love to hear from people on this issue in the comments; do you think technology is making real changes or is it a scapegoat for children's usual behaviors?  What changes (perhaps decreased attention span? obesity?) seem to have actual ties to growing up with technology?


  1. I agree that technology is the scapegoat in situations like this..but I think to a degree kids have changed as well. Young people are accustomed to multi-tasking largely because of computers and cell phones--these young people wouldn't consider it rude to be texting while talking with friends..and listening to music..and browsing youtube.

    Most young people realize that a serious conversation on an important topic calls for removal of the "distractions," so they can engage with eye-contact and active listening. The disconnect with older generations comes when kids hesitate to give extensive attention to "small talk," even with a parent or authority figure. It doesn't help that many adults seem to have a "How important could all that 'stuff' possibly be?--I never had any of it when I was growing up" attitude.

  2. Thanks for the thoughts. I have to say I agree with your finer points, here. There is a difference between how the older and younger generations view casual communication. It will be interesting to see how this generation of children and young adults change or do things differently when they become parents.

    And an excellent point on the attitude of adults to some technology! Many are hesitant to believe in anyone's ability to multi-task so well, but it is certainly possible.