Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been researching people’s views, at the time, of the effect of television on children in the 1970s and 80s. Basically they can be summarised as “WE’RE DOOOMED I TELL YOU, DOOMED!” Kids were spending so much time watching TV that it was changing their brains and their attention span and educational results were falling and people were becoming unfit and a terrible fate awaited humanity unless something changed. Is that sounding vaguely familiar to anyone?
Something did change of course. We can now substitute the Internet for television and all the same portents of doom are trotted out. The strange thing though, and I speak here as one of those kids watching TV in the 70s, is that the prophecies of doom did not come to pass. Sure we have our issues as a generation, but it’s pretty hard to blame the state of the World today on TV-watching in the 70s and 80s.
Then, yesterday, I came across this article from The Conversation which basically attacks the lack of scientific rigour behind the claims of damage from use of the Internet, social media, gaming and so on. We’re seeing more punditry than science and it plays perfectly into parents fears. I found the comments as interesting as the article, especially this one from Sue Ieraci:
Every generation thinks that their way of doing things is the peak of human existence, their parents were old-fashioned and backward, and their kids are lazy and lacking in essential skills.
When writing was first becoming common, the elders worried that peoples’ memories would deteriorate.
When radio and TV became common, parents worried that children would no longer sing around the piano or read books.
Ultimately, if we teach our children sound human values, the building-blocks of education, and critical thinking, it’s highly likely they’ll be just fine, like most of them always have been.
And that really is the root of the issue. Each generation is worried about how the next one is turning out and is threatened by the changes they see. Perhaps a combination of those changes happening faster and generations happening more slowly is making this more pointed at the moment, but it’s a long way from a new phenomenon.
It also seems that technology is an easy target for the perceived ills. It’s certainly not technology that’s to blame for scheduling music, sport and other activities into every minute of the average child’s day and pouring pressure on them to excel academically. It’s not technology that’s leading to us apparently each driving 12,600km a year ferrying our children to and from activities. Although, I suppose that it could be argued that our parenting-style is the result of all that TV watching in the 70s…
Perhaps it might benefit us as a generation to take a breath and to consider that we turned out OK in spite of the dire warnings; and that as long as we just intrude some calm, some values, and some ethics into our children’s lives they’ll turn out fine too.
Although now I say that, I wonder how you’d know if your brain was rotting from too much television in the 70s?