5 Ways Technology Has Changed Childhood

Technology is now part of how children live, learn, play, react and relate to others. Our expert, Dr Debarati Halder, provides insights into how technology is changing children, for better and worse.

By Dr Debarati Halder  • 9 min read

5 Ways Technology Has Changed Childhood

A few days ago, a friend shared a clipping of an old advertisement with me. It showed mothers calling family members to dinner but no one, including the children, went up to the dinner table. They were all busy on their wifi-enabled devices. Then, the mothers switched on a device which blocked the wifi and turned all the screens black. Initially, everyone panicked; then, they slowly went to have dinner together as a family.

This advertisement is just one example of how 'childhood' has changed in the past few years. The intrusion of information and communication technology into homes has changed the lifestyle of everyone, including children. Compared with parents and grandparents who are cyber immigrants, the effect of technology is considerably more on today's children, who are netizens.

How has technology changed childhood?

We look at five key aspects of children's lives:

Learning: Whenever there is a discussion on technology, what raises my concern is the change in the learning patterns of children. The modern learning method is no longer restricted to suggesting books for specific subjects. Children are being guided towards using the Internet for a better understanding of the subjects they are studying. They watch videos where lessons are taught with the help of animations and lectures. This has had a tremendous effect on the way children learn subjects like History, Language, Mathematics and so on. Thus, information and communication technology has made learning a more enjoyable experience. However, there is a negative side as well. If left unmonitored, some children visit unwanted sites where they are exposed to the risk of falling victim to child predators. Children may also learn undesirable skills like hacking or creating fake profiles or impersonating others. If they put these skills to use, they may find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

Playing: Almost everyone will agree that the growth of the Internet has led to a decrease in physical activity. Nowadays, most children prefer to stay indoors and play games online instead of going to the playground for a game of football or badminton. Quite a few children also become interested in participating in violent challenges like Bluewhale, Momo, Kiki and so on. Incidentally, even in the pre-Internet era, children were involved in playing games that could cause permanent physical disability. However, the Internet challenges children get involved in are more dangerous and may cause permanent physical disability along with privacy infringement. Young children are no longer interested in dolls or toy cars; they are more interested in smart toys operated by artificial intelligence. Indeed, while children are becoming more mature and tech-friendly at an earlier age, they are also becoming more lonely by getting involved with virtual games with virtual players.

Exploring nature: Children of the pre-Internet era were more likely to explore nature by going outdoors. But, in today's age of technology, although children do explore nature, they do so online. A child who has never seen glaciers, may watch and learn about them with just a click of the mouse. Similarly, children may also learn about deserts or forests or other natural wonders by surfing the Internet. But, where does all this lead to? While surfing the Internet has enriched children intellectually, they are becoming less competent physically — leading to a lack of fitness and rise in obesity, because of low activity levels.

Creating social network: Earlier, occasions like family gatherings, functions and festivals provided opportunities for introducing children to extended family members. Children would bond with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins by visiting them during vacations. They learnt to meet and greet their parents’ friends and children, accept criticisms and appreciation for failures and achievements. All these helped children establish lifelong bonds, and understand whom to trust and whom not to. The difference between then and now is that children learnt all this by socialising in real life, not through social networking sites.

Establishing relationships: The most important aspect of childhood affected by technology is the relationship between children, parents and others around. Most parents no longer pacify their children by lifting them on to their lap to provide emotional support during times of distress. Instead, parents nowadays show videos or play songs on screen devices to distract children from what makes them feel uncomfortable. It is well established that children try to imitate their parents. So, when parents themselves remain glued to screen devices, children try to imitate them. As a result, children and parents do not get the opportunity to sit together and talk. Most conversations take place on chat apps and instead of words, emojis are used to answer the questions. This gap in communication leads children to look for someone to trust and share their feelings with. So, they strike friendships with unknown individuals in the virtual world. Some of these individuals may not have the best interests of children in mind and may make them indulge in undesirable acts. Parents only come to know about what has happened to their children after they land in trouble.

Although reading about these changes may make you feel that technology has had a negative effect on the lives of children, there are positive takeaways as well. For example, tech-savvy children are the ones who usually teach grandparents and parents how to use the latest technology. In the same way, parents play an important role in ensuring that technology has a positive effect on children. But, for this to happen, parents should ensure that they decrease the time they spend engaged with devices. Instead, they need to increase their interaction with their children and family members. This can teach children how to establish a perfect balance between their real and virtual lives.

Dr Debarati Halder is the Honorary Managing Director of the Centre for Cyber Victim Counselling (www.cybervictims.org). She is also Professor & Head of the Department of Research, Unitedworld School of Law, Karnavati University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. She can be reached at ccvcindia@gmail.com

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