31 July 2016

How has the internet changed this generation of children?

I was asked this question this week. What are the pros and cons for having on-demand access to effectively unlimited information?

Lawrence Jones and family

Walking around Dunham Massey with my wife and friends,

Giving children answers to any question that may pop into their heads is a great thing. As long as they still ask their parents, grandparents and people around them as many questions as they Google.
At the end of the day, there is no replacement for experiences and first-hand knowledge. Imagine the difference in reading about the Second World War online to hearing about it first-hand from one of our veterans!

Of course, there are clear advantages. I wrote last week about the Pokémon Go trend. It’s another example, like geo-caching – that’s using the internet to combat the negative effects of constant online access, or being able to access the world from an armchair or bedroom.
It seems that long gone are the days of children playing out in the street on their bikes or scooters and finding their own fun (or mischief!), instead whiling away the hours in front of a multitude of screens.
Whist Pokémon Go and its geo-caching-style predecessors involve a screen, at least they are getting children moving. My ten-year-old daughter Poppy has never asked to go the park so many times! Last weekend, we spent hours walking around Dunham Massey with all four girls, two of them playing the game and adventuring around in search of the funny little creatures.

Martin, the chap who asked me the original question, told me that recently whilst he was walking the dog with his sons, he bumped into a local teenager who lives around the corner. He was with his friends Pokémon hunting. They had known the boy for quite some time from the boys’ swimming training but he had never seen him outside in five years of knowing him! Now there are children and teens all over the place!

It’s incredible that this simple app has got all manner of young people out from their rooms and away from their Xboxes. Not just for the activity, but for the social aspect.

Social skills are the biggest area of concern for the younger generations. I honestly believe that whilst we have more access than ever to communicate with one another, we’re not really communicating anymore. Group messages and Snapchats are disposable, instant and can be ignored.

We’ve seen an increase in young people over the past few years who are unable to hold a conversation over the phone. They’re scared of picking up the phone and calling someone, they’d rather send a text, email or tweet.

Holding a conversation is an essential skill. It’s invaluable in every area of life. Being engaging, listening and responding to people – strangers or friends – is one of life’s greatest gifts. We build relationships this way, we learn from one another and ultimately, we grow.

For this reason, I aim to encourage strong communication skills with all of the young people in my life. With my girls we limit their screen time, we make sure that they are out with friends and that they attend clubs and social activities. Equally, soft skills are an integral part of the UKFast apprenticeship programme; just as much as the technical education.

Can you remember when the phone was a static handset on a spiral cable that sat on a table in the hall. One phone in the house and you had to take calls in front of your whole family – heaven forbid your girlfriend called and your dad answered!

I almost miss the simplicity of those days. You knew where your friends were by spotting which house or park the pile of bikes were. You were taught respect and manners, having to speak to your friends’ parents when you popped around to ‘play out’ or when they answered the phone. And you had to be creative, to make your own fun.

Of course, there are huge and extraordinary benefits to having such a connected world. It is astonishing to think of just how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time. Looking back as near a five years ago, we’re already in a completely different world, and it’s evolving fast.

Looking to the future and the inevitable evolution of technology, I think the key will be balance – as it is with most areas of life. It is up to us parents and business owners to guide the next generation, to encourage them away from the draw of a world of information every now and then, and to remind them of the joys of the simpler things in life.

How do you engage with the internet and your children? Do you set limits?

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