Whatever happened to “real” life?

Whatever happened to ‘real’ life?

Back when I was a kid, we all played outside a lot… building forts, riding bikes, climbing trees, playing ball, jumping rope, flying kites, and all that good stuff.  I had skates and stilts, a skateboard, and a pogo stick.  We played games like tetherball, badminton, and hopscotch.  Jacks and air hockey and ping pong and pool….not the virtual stuff – the real deal.   When we ran out of games to play, we’d invent some more.  Yeah, we watched TV, but there really weren’t a whole lot of channels or shows to choose from, so after Saturday morning cartoons, we’d be back outside rather than glued to the box.

Today’s kids are seduced and lured into an alternate universe promising unlimited high-speed entertainment.  Hundreds of cable channels and video games can be played anywhere on laptops, iPads, or smartphones.  In fact, 75% of American children under the age of 8 have access to a smartphone or tablet, with more than half of 8- to 12-year-olds having their own cell phone (the average age for a child to get their first smartphone is 10.3 years).  Aided by the convenience and constant access provided by these mobile devices, 92% of teens report going online daily (including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly”).

Even the kids who like to read books are now reading most of them from a blue-light screen.  48 states and the District of Columbia currently support online learning that ranges from occasionally supplementing classroom instruction to enrolling students in full-time programs. It may be our quest to build 21st century skills, achieve significant improvements in productivity, and accelerate learning, but what about the divide that exists between those who use technology in active, creative ways that support their learning and those who use technology primarily for passive content consumption?  “We are eager to take a step forward in understanding and recognizing how the active use of technology by early learners with adults can positively impact them, yet are concerned by the number of children left alone for long periods of time with a passive digital babysitter.” –Joseph South Director, Office of Educational Technology US Department of Education (2017 National Education Technology Plan Update JANUARY 2017 U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION)

At least 89% of our teens use social media. 39% of them get a social media account at 11.4 years. 11% got theirs when they were younger than 10.  And while 85% accessed the Internet from a room shared with the family in 2012, that number has dropped to 76% today, as 24% now have “private” access.  90% of these kids say their parents trust them to be responsible online, yet, 45% said they would change something about their online behavior if their parents were watching.  I think it’s important we remember that, ironically, social networking doesn’t actually happen with real-live people. Interestingly, although 87% of youth have witnessed cyberbullying, one in three teens say they feel more accepted online than they do in real life.

“There’s an app for that!?”

Interacting with peers, resolving conflicts, and enduring through challenging problems are all experiences important to success.  Now there are digital games for students to try out varied responses and gauge the outcomes without fear of negative consequences.  In fact, a number of apps are available to help kids name and identify how they are feeling, express their emotions, and receive strategies for self-regulation.  Games such as Ripple Effects and The Social Express use virtual environments to assess a student’s social skill competencies and provide practice.  Other apps, like Smiling Mind; Stop, Breathe & Think; Touch and Learn—Emotions; and Digital Problem Solver, provide supports for emotional regulation and conflict resolution.  And to think we were able to do all that with a Magic 8 Ball.

We are looking at the first generation of kids who’ll have spent their entire lives staring at computer screens.  Children who rely on technology for the majority of their play limit challenges to their creativity and imaginations, as well as necessary challenges to their bodies to achieve optimal sensory and motor development. The impact of rapidly advancing technology on the developing child has seen an increase of physical, psychological and behavior disorders that the health and education systems are just beginning to detect, much less understand.

Without a doubt, technology is here to stay and grow.  It undeniably has its benefits.  I just hope we remember to “keep it real” once in a while…especially where our youngest children are concerned.