The above picture is from a TalkTalk advert currently adorning a reputable bus stop near you. It makes a virtue of multi-tasking (with the focus on the mother by the way. No Dad in the picture).
Multi-tasking? Well, my Mum certainly used to multi-task when I was a toddler, but one of those ‘tasks’ was not checking her Facebook feed every ten minutes. Let’s be blunt. For those of us dealing with a major increase of children whose communication skills are significantly delayed, I think this advert sends out the wrong message.
Maybe there are cultural shifts that happen so quickly, and are so widespread, that they become accepted as the norm. I think the use of smartphones is one of these shifts.
Current thinking suggests that children are not inconvenienced by a high usage of smartphones or tablets. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) in the UK recently reported on the impact of ‘screen time’, and found it was ‘impossible to recommend age-appropriate time limits’ because ‘there is not enough evidence to confirm that screen time is in itself harmful to child health at any age.’ I’m sure their conclusions are the correct ones. My 15-year-old moves perpetually from one screen to another, yet is very healthy. However, it frustrates the life out of me. I am convinced it’s not good for him (but then I’m a boring, annoying Dad who should get a life.)
And in a way he is right, for this issue is as much about the adults as the children.
At school, we’ve decided to work alongside the children to run a campaign, focused not on themselves or their peers. No, we’re going to concentrate on the adults. One of the saddest sights that we see around school is the parent who is pushing the pram, one hand on the handle, one hand on the smartphone, adult and child in different worlds. One of the most opportune times for a child to hear their parent’s voice is whilst they are in the pram. I’m far from a model parent but I vividly remember walking my children around for hours, talking to them, singing to them (not sure if that was good for them) or just commenting on what was around us.
Now people walk with their heads down, oblivious to the world around them. I don’t need an academic study to tell me that, if a child doesn’t hear their parent’s voice regularly because they’re too busy checking their Facebook timeline, that is not good. Hence our campaign.
Another aspect of it will be the ‘iPad as comforter’. As a vehicle for stimulating interactions between parent and child, I’m sure the iPad can be a great choice – watching a video together, listening to a story, chatting about a photograph, exploring an app. But if it is used as a method of muting a child, keeping them out of the way, I’m not in favour. We will be highlighting this through a character and slogan invented by the pupils.
At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy (which I’ve proved immediately just by using that word), I cannot think of many issues for schools that are more important. Yes, we could all stand by and lapse into cultural relativity – ‘it’s up to the parents: it’s their choice’ – but I think it’s incumbent on schools to educate their wider school community about the risks associated with an overuse of personal gadgets and media – that children miss out on so much rich communication in the real world, for example.
I’m not a technophobe at all – the world is I think better for digital development. However, it would be good if people looked up at the world around them that little bit more, and actually talked to each other.