Our society has changed dramatically in the past 30 years and the changes have been picking up pace in recent years. Most of us parents and educators grew up in very different circumstances, all with our own challenges I’m sure.
I overheard a conversation at a neighbouring table in a café a few years ago, and it really had a big impact on me and made me think. There were two ladies possibly in their early seventies and they were (loudly) chatting about “how times had changed”. They particularly got stuck into the changes for children growing up in modern times (and in our Western Society). Most of their arguments were very valid, all children have access to education and healthcare, they didn’t have to experience war, most children live in financially secure homes, children can take part in a multitude of leisure activities, they (very generally speaking) are used to meals in restaurants and foreign travel, and technology has opened up a world of information and opportunity for them. So far so good. The conversation then took the turn that these two ladies believed that children nowadays don’t know how lucky they are (fair enough) and that there were never better times to grow up in. I can see where these two women were coming from as obviously their life experience was very different and it sounded as if they went through a lot of hardship in their lives.
This conversation played in my mind for a long time and even though I agreed with much of their point of view, I couldn’t but disagree with their sentiment that it’s much easier to grow up/raise children in our current times. Quite the opposite in my opinion. I am actually getting quite worried about the trends and developments in recent years, which was probably the main catalyst for starting to write my current book. I believe that there are significant modern day challenges that have started to have a noticeable impact on our children’s mental health and well-being.
Children are growing up in a very fast-paced and competitive society and particularly the internet, social media and smartphones have started to have a severe negative influence on our children’s development and happiness. Basic developmental stages important for social and communication skills are being inhibited by the increased use of tablets and smartphones. I often see very young children sitting at tables in a cafe with their parents or carers, being entertained with these devices.
Very recently I saw a young mum playing on her own mobile phone while her 1 ½-2 year old daughter was using HER OWN in her buggy. It was one of the saddest things I had seen in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want to do is judge people, I have most certainly used my phone or iPad before in desperate situations to distract or calm down my children and I’m sure I will at some stage in the future. I also believe that children can benefit greatly from certain activities on tablets or smartphones, when used appropriately and limited in time. What is important to me is that parents are educated about the “real” damage they are potentially doing to their children’s social and communication development if they are over-exposed to “screens”.
Dr. Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine says: “Too much screen time too soon is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster through the tablets. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.” (in Margalit, 2016)
The following is a short passage from my book “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a revolution”:
There are many studies suggesting that, especially in the first three years of a child’s life, the so called “critical period”, permanent damage can be done to brain development by too much exposure to “screen time”. A young child needs certain stimuli from his/her environment and the people in it, i.e. the “real world” in this crucial developmental stage in order for his/her brain to develop fully. These stimuli cannot be found in activities on tablets or smart phones and an overuse can lead to the stunting of brain development in certain areas. When young children are read stories by their parents for example, it encourages their brain to imagine parts of the storyline, what the characters in the story might look like, where they live, what their voices might sound like. “Screens” take away this process as it spoon-feeds the total experience which will actually make children’s imagination lazy and weaken their cognitive muscle.
Let’s be honest, smartphones and social media have become an addiction for many of us, not just our children. Much of our time is spent in cyberspace with our “friends” on facebook, twitter and snapchat. Real life connections are being impaired by this modern day phenomenon and even more sinister trends are starting to emerge.
Particularly our generation of teenagers is being affected by the easy access to the internet and social media. They are able to access inappropriate materials such as porn and violent content at the press of a button and are often the target of online predators in questionable chatrooms for example. Teenagers are living in the constant awareness that anything they do or say could be recorded and circulated on the internet. How could you possibly behave normally or truly be yourself?? There is an abyss of unimaginable depth and many of us parents are closing our eyes because we are too afraid of what we might see. We can already see the effects these trends are having on our children, teenage and child suicide, inappropriate sexual and violent behaviours, low self-esteem, depression and anxiety, impaired self- and body-image are starting to be terms firmly embedded in our vocabulary.
We have to start talking about these issues and try and find solutions with our children. Education and communication is the only way and most importantly we need to take responsibility and be role models. We can’t expect our children to adopt behaviours if we ourselves are not able to model them. Our children’s mental health has to become top priority, both in schools and at home. Let’s get involved, let’s get educated, let’s help ourselves and our children to introduce more “real life presence” and support our mental health by starting the conversation.
For more information on mindful parenting and education and a practical everyday approach that can be applied by anybody and tailored to your individual circumstances take a look at my new book “Roots and Wings – Childhood needs a revolution”, a handbook for parents and educators to promote positive change based on the principles of mindfulness.
Thanks so much for your interest and support! 😉 Alex
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