When I was of school age, the number of individuals who had a sizeable and direct impact on shaping my life, health and wellbeing were relatively finite; limited to my family and friends, teachers and other professionals who took responsibility for my development. I'd also give a shout out to the makers of Saturday morning kids' television, which I'm sure had a big impact on my humour. Remember the Animaniacs? Classic!
The only way you really knew of the oppression and ills of the big, bad world was if you happened to overhear discussions of the adults around you, or if you were in the room when the news came on one of the 4 channels of the television. That, I know, makes me very fortunate. As I recall it, we had a black and white, 14 inch television for most of my childhood. A computer came along when I was mid-teens... I think a savings policy matured or something like that and I begged for a computer at home, like some of my friends had. It wasn't until I was perhaps fifteen or sixteen that we got the internet... a painstaking experience of 'dial up,' followed by a screeching sound for a minute or more, only to be told there was an error and that you must start again. When I started secondary school, back in 1993, there were 130 websites. Total. Today, there are an estimated 162 million. Now, I swear I'm not anti-technology... anyone who knows me would attest to the fact that I love a new, shiny bit of tech, but I do have a concern about the culture we now live in, where technology has become so insistent and ever-present. Ping! An email. Ping! A Twitter notification. Ping! Remember to breathe. Ping! Breaking news. Ping! Close your activity ring. Ping! Ping! Ping! And I know for adolescents today, that can be magnified tenfold. The pressure to gain a following and to share your life is fast becoming an accepted norm of the masses. A close friend of mine has a child who started secondary school this year and has been genuinely anxious about the fact she doesn't have the favoured Social Media accounts, because that, my friends, is where friendships are made and broken for many these days.
As a father of a toddler, I got to thinking about the impact of growing up in a world where mature concepts are quite literally foisted upon you — ready or not.
Hundreds of television channels, constant connection through the internet and social media, a culture increasingly obsessed with the unattainable images of perfection that surround us, the temptation to live out your life as 'content' to be followed and commented upon by strangers and friends alike, where a lie or opinion that garners substantial backing trumps the simple truth... As educators — and parents — how can we prepare our children for the world of 'push' that they're growing up in?
Well, it seems fairly obvious to most of us that burying your head in the sand isn't an option. I had a childhood friend growing up whose parents locked the television away during the week, insisted on a strict 6:00pm bedtime right up to the end of primary school (if not beyond) and forbid any sweets or chocolates in the house. I swear to God, when he'd come over to our house, he never stopped eating! Sweets, cakes, biscuits... all the things we accepted were occasional treats in our home were like a banquet to him. We didn't do much playing, either... he was too fixated by the television! My point here is this: simple denial only makes the prize seem sweeter. In my humble opinion, I think we have to be honest, open and non-judgmental about the realities of technology on our pupils and work with, rather than against, them to navigate the road. As a parent, I'm scared as hell about it, but I know it's as much part of my responsibility as teaching my son right from wrong.
There is no doubt that an incredible potential to the good can be attributed to modern technological advances; but as developers and consumers are now as young as six or seven, do they have the knowledge or skill to discern a positive or negative long-term impact? I shudder think how my adulthood would have been affected by the unfiltered posting of my student life online... I had a great time, it was an important time of self discovery and growth. But it is in the past, where it belongs.
Perhaps there is a real opportunity for education in addressing these issues and concerns with youngsters, if we take the responsibility of it seriously and give it the priority it deserves.
I really can't imagine a more important lesson to teach our children than the importance and sanctity of their own rights and responsibilities; to teach them that their voice, their body and their mind are their own and are NOT for sale, to let or for hire...
Whatever our role, as educators, this lesson cannot be ignored or diminished.
Thanks for reading. If you'd like to know more ab out how John Newton Education could support you, your school or your event, please contact me.