Vancouver doctor and public speaker Gabor Mate and co-author Gordon Neufeld have written a new edition to their 2004 book, Hold on to your Kids with the subtitle Why Parents need to matter more than peers. The update contains new and disconcerting evidence of harm to our children and society from the the over-use and reliance on digitized technology.
Kids know it’s not good to spend too much time in front of the computer and that their parents don’t like it, but how can we disentangle ourselves?
I have a sneaky suspicion that a lot of the fascination with all things digital comes down to how we as a society see children, how we control and direct them with the things we think they should be doing, and how we much we respect and acknowledge the things they take the initiative to care about.
Even compared to 40 years ago, today’s children are far more restricted, monitored, and surveilled than earlier. It used to be there were more kids within a close proximity, and an attitude that children could and should be outside hanging around with their friends. Free time meant going outside to find your people and come up with your own fun. Now it’s hard to find any kids not overly busy with structured activities and schedules that doesn’t allow for that kind of spontaneous, creative play.
Computer games, chat rooms, and other social media give the feeling of playing or being with others and allows kids who are kept inside to have this opportunity. I truly believe that until they are really hooked, kids would rather be together with their friends outside, running around. But our lives seem to have become too restrictive, prescriptive, and complicated for this simple kind of childhood.
As well, computer games encourage, praise, and acknowledge kids’ achievements, profoundly adding to their allure. Sadly, this is something many children do not receive in their real lives, especially for the activities and interests that they choose to pursue. We have to be open to our children’s interests and passions even if they are things we don’t like or agree with. If they trust us not to shut them down, not to steer them toward only what we think is valuable, and be willing to support them in trying things that are outside our comfort zone, we may be surprised at what we can all learn, or what words of wisdom may come from their lips.
I’m not saying these issues aren’t complicated or that I have a definitive answer about how to address them, but I think that our fear-based society’s control over the children is a big problem that is also inevitably linked to screen time issues.