I remember speaking to a friend who vowed he was never going to allow his children to play with an iPhone or iPad, until they were at least in primary school.
He said he wanted them to socialise and grow up with real human interaction and not just swipe a computer screen to communicate. He believed that kids need to be in touch with nature because playing in the outdoors can contribute to a child’s development emotionally, intellectually, and socially.
However, he was single when he made this statement and several of our friends, who already had toddlers addicted to their iPads nodded sagely, saying: “You say this now. Just wait until you have kids!” Another young Mum piped in: “Kids are hard work and you need to constantly entertain them. Frankly, I wouldn’t even know what I’d do without these incredible learning tools and games which are easily accessible online that can teach your kids how to speak, spell, and count!”
Well, my friend did end up eating his words because it is hard to ignore the wealth of knowledge, apps and content catering to young children that can be found on the Internet. When he finally got married and had his first kid, he discovered that one of the swiftest ways to placate his agitated or wailing son, even at the tender age of two, was to let him play with his iPad. It totally engaged him so his parents were able to dine in peace. However, to give this father credit, he made sure there was a balance and regularly brought him to the park or the nearest beach so that he could spend time outdoors.
It is disturbing that kids these days are getting less and less access to nature and obesity levels are on the rise globally.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 40 million children under the age of five were overweight in 2011.
An article by Dr Carly Wood revealed that only 10% had regular contact with natural environments, compared to 40% of adults who did so when they were young (Source: www.outdoornation.org.uk).
It is alarming to think how this ‘nature-deficit disorder’ will impact children’s health and wellbeing in the long run.
Yet, it was not long ago, before Internet usage became widespread that many of us can remember running around our neighbourhoods playing catch, with the wind in our hair and sunshine or tropical rain beating down on our faces. This used to be enough to entertain us.
In today’s world with Generation “Y” closing down their Facebook accounts because Instagram is “way cooler”, kids are becoming more tech-savvy and even play games with peers they have never met from other continents remotely.
They have access to a plethora of information with the simple click of a button. Depending on how old they are (and they keep getting younger), they could enter key words into a ‘Google’ search bar, and immediately find what they are looking for, regardless of race, culture or language, No local library could compete with the labyrinth of content this offers.
Like anything in life, moderation is the key. Too much of anything is not good, so it is important to strike a healthy balance.
For a person who loves to hike with an accompanying deep respect for nature and the mental clarity it brings, I have always been concerned about our dependency to computers and smartphones.
Having said that, I have all these devices myself and I am rather lost without them. It would be impossible to run a business in this day and age without access to email, at the very least.
However, like my friend who takes his toddler to the park, I try to keep myself grounded by taking long walks in nature, or going away for a weekend by the sea where the sound of ocean waves helps me slow down and disconnect from the rat race.
I have no children at the moment but I can only hope they will cultivate a love for all things natural from the animals, to oceans, to the forests and trees, because without nature, we wouldn’t be here.
Technology is cool, no doubt, and it is a really helpful enabler, but not to the point of having to tear your children away from their computer screens because they have lost such a vital connection to the outdoors.