There must not be a single parent in history that hasn’t uttered the cliché phrase “back in my day,” but it is too true. The idea of my parents living in a world without television is foreign, an impossibility, then I think back to when I didn’t even own a computer. Today, my children can do things on a computer that, at the same age, I couldn’t have imagined a possibility. Each generation is living in a new world, with new technology, and new challenges. So, how do we adapt? And, are those valuable lessons we learned as children, in a different time, as necessary to instil in the next generation?
I grew up in a time where television was thought to rot your brain. Decades later, I do not know anyone who caught the deadly brain-rot. Those hours spent watching violent cartoons aimed at selling me merchandise didn’t hurt me at all. In fact, I am making an excellent little career for myself writing about those same cartoons, toys, video games, and other pop culture crazes. My parents would have never expected that 20-30 years ago. They knew what they knew from the generation they were raised in. But, just like things were changing and adapting so fast around them that they were not sure what would hurt my development or not, the world is changing even more quickly today.
My children are growing up with technology that I couldn’t even comprehend when I was a child. They have motion controlled, 3D animated, completely immersive virtual reality video games when I was trying to get Pac Man to eat all the pellets. They have a portable computer system that they can hide under their blankets and watch videos, play games, or video call their friends, while I was getting up to change a channel, had a computer that took 20 minutes to turn on and had to leave the house if I wanted to see my friends. My son already wants a Smartphone at the age of 7; I wasn’t even allowed to answer the phone on the wall at 7. They have the internet, while I was trying to figure out the MS-Dos commands to open a spelling game made out of a few hundred pixels.
For the most part, I am a big supporter of them using these gadgets and screens. Just like my generation learned and adapted with the growing technology, they too will be in a world that is constantly changing around them. Better to have them tech-savvy in a world that will be completely computerised, then have them behind on the curve. However, I am starting to see some of those same downsides that probably had my parents so concerned about the dreaded brain rot.
The problem is lack of attention. Between YouTube, Netflix, and hundreds of video games they are never without some source of entertainment. While I spent hours playing with my toys because there was never anything good on TV during the middle hours of the day, my children don’t know what to do with their toys because they are never without something decent to draw their attention. They can sit and flip through thousands of videos and still have more to watch. They can find a new show and binge the whole thing in one go.
Kids today do not understand the struggles we had growing up. I had one new episode of Transformers a week, if I missed it there was a chance I will never see it again in my life. If I wanted to re-watch my favourite Ninja Turtles episode, I better have had that VCR ready to record. If my preferred network was playing some crappy movie during the afternoon, I was out-of-luck. And commercials, the number of commercials I had to sit through- but, hold on I am getting ahead of myself.
This weekend we had a clear morning to lounge around the house, the weather outside is pretty sloppy so, it was a chill day of hanging out. I made some pancakes for breakfast, and we were having some nice family time. Jenn decided to throw on some Saturday morning cartoons- anyone who knows anything about Jenn knows that this is entirely out of the norm for her but, she too has the nostalgia of hours spent watching cartoons as a child. What we discovered blew our minds. Our kids didn’t know what to do.
First Alex had no idea what a show was, she referred to them as videos. They have no idea what a channel is- when we were kids we knew exactly what number to flip to, and which times had the best cartoons on. The “videos” would end and instead of offering a selection of other things we may enjoy it instantly turned on another show, without us choosing. One cartoon was aimed at girls, and instead of skipping it, Zyler had to sit through it and wait for something else to come on. And commercials. What!? “How do you skip this ad?” Oh yeah, they don’t know what a commercial is and kept referring to them as ads. And, they actually had to sit through them. To their amazement though, they advertise toys which was cool to them.
It is crazy to think that this generation behind us is so immersed in technology that something as common as television is antique to them. Makes you feel old. TV was precious to us growing up, and now it is dying. My father worked for a cable company for 30+ years, and he was recently let go because the market just doesn’t work anymore. Why sit there and flip channels, and watch commercials when you can stream just about anything you could ever want?
So, is this a lesson in teaching my kids the same values I have when I sit them in front of a regular TV program? By forcing them to sit through the “ads” am I teaching them patience? Or, am I guilty of the same thing as my parents when they thought TV was rotting my brain. Maybe, this lack of attention for sitting through television programming is just the way things are and need to be. Like in a future world when my children become the parent’s things will move so fast that there is no time for nonsense. And, what will that look like? Will my kids be saying “back in my day, I had to watch videos on a screen.” “Back in my day, you had to wait for ten-seconds to skip advertisements.” “Back in my day, video games were virtual reality.” What values are they learning that we have no way of interpreting until decades pass and technology becomes something that we can’t even comprehend right now?
There is a lot of debate over screen time these days and what is healthy for our youth. But, honestly, we survived, and things are developing faster than ever. When I think about how much things have changed, and what we needed to be able to adapt, is it possible that a lack of screen time could hurt their development at this point? I mean, they have a lot of catching up to do, and things are moving forward with or without them. And, do you think by forcing my kids to sit through Saturday morning cartoons we were punishing them because we don’t understand or were we sharing important values of a generation passed?