When I was a young child life was blissfully simple, my main concerns were watching The Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, playing football and convincing my mother to take to me to McDonalds. At this point in my life technology, (with the exception of the Super Nintendo) was uninteresting and alien to me. Fast forward to 2012 and the childhood landscape looks unfathomably different.
I recently learned thanks to a Primary School teacher friend, of a school in Liverpool where children as young as eight had been found to be bullying their classmates via the medium of BBM (Blackberry messenger). Initially I was simply shocked that children of such a young age even owned mobile phones, at which point my friend divulged to me that of thirty children in a class of eight to nine year olds, nineteen children were the proud owners of Blackberry’s. Not only did such young children have personal access to this technology, they were using it as a means to humiliate and degrade their fellow students. It is a well known idiom that “kids are cruel” yet I still found myself taken aback by this advancement in cruelty, aided by the wonders of instant messaging. According to my friend, children were now bringing their mobile phones into the classroom, displaying the kind of attachment to technology normally the hallmark of sullen teens. A culture of spite appeared to emerge, with mockery moving from the digital realm into the school environment, a worrying indication that the lines between fantasy and reality are becoming increasingly blurred for children of a younger and younger age.
I decided to do a spot of internet trawling and found some bleak statistics; according to numerous surveys nine out of ten school pupils now own a mobile phone, in comparison to fewer than three quarters of pupils who have access to books in their domestic environment. The National Literacy Trust found a direct correlation between access to literature in the home and advanced levels of reading, which makes it all the more worrying that for the vast majority of school aged children the closest thing to literature at home is an illiterate text message from a peer.
With every technological advancement comes consequential costs, in this case those costs appear to be the potential loss of youth’s innocence coupled with a harmful effect on literacy. Instant communication can be used to achieve wonderful things, for example no matter what your take on the KONY 2012 issue, it has undoubtedly showcased that the human race and in particular the younger generation can unite for a greater good. The question is do the pitfalls outweigh the prospective benefits? It would be a sad world if the usage of modern communication was excessively policed, as undoubtedly free speech (a basic human right) would be adversely affected. There is though I believe an argument for greater policing of children’s usage of technology. For example BBM, the offending platform in the school case I mentioned above is relatively uncensored, and Facebook’s minimum age requirement of thirteen years old can be navigated by simply entering a false date of birth upon sign up. This leaves children of young ages free to act as they please in a domain where accountability is almost nonexistent.