Summer is over and the new school year is ahead. The long holiday can be a testing time, especially for parents: on one hand it proffers a well-deserved rest and valuable family time, on the other hand the lack of a fixed routine can draw even the most organised people into a chaos of laxity and procrastination. Bedtimes become later and later, snacking replaces proper mealtimes, and any vague attempts to work from home are doomed to epic failure. The otherwise finite and somewhat regulated screen time becomes conspicuously perpetual; it fills every unstructured morning, every car journey, every waiting-for-lunch, every can’t-fall-asleep, every don’t-know-what-to-do-with-myself moment. Children nowadays are more likely to be found on Fortnite than in playgrounds, on Instagram than in shopping centres, playing Minecraft rather than drawing pictures.
The online world is extremely stimulating, accessible and entertaining: winning a battle, earning some rewards, getting likes and comments are all highly satisfying. However, it is both an escape and a trap. The opportunity to escape from boredom makes the offline world bleak, slow-paced, and dull in comparison; a trip to Disneyland is the only thing that can compare to the excitement readily available at our fingertips, but even this fun-filled trip will probably be heightened by sharing the experience with friends and followers. Their reaction will enhance and validate our own feelings about it; social media becomes extremely intertwined with everything we do and with the way we think.
Our family has just come back from camping in the Lake District. Toasting marshmallows over a small fire, with an idyllic backdrop of mountains and waterfalls, and a completely unreliable mobile signal promised uninterrupted family time. I enjoyed the ‘unplugged’ , back to nature state until I noticed that my children were not eating their smores; they were doing a photo shoot! Trying to capture just the right angle of the melted marshmallow between the two perfectly aligned biscuits, they were photographing the smore with a precision that would put any food commercial to shame; twenty tantalising minutes in order to upload a picture to Instagram. I was wondering how the enjoyment of sharing the moment of bliss with their friends could override the enjoyment of devouring the mouth-watering delicacy. Our children are the same biological species as all the human babies born before, yet they seem different. The environment they grow up in is different: the pace of life is different, and the struggles are different. It does give a strange, nostalgic pleasure to share a meme about childhood without screens, cycling helmets, or street lights as curfew, but we would all agree that being a child in 2018 is, by and large, a different experience to being a child 30 or 40 years ago. The accelerated rate of technological progress widens the generation gap even more, until there is even separation between millennials and children born after the iPhone came out. It is easy to feel moral panic, but it is important to remember that the main things are still the same: the core values of empathy and care, parental responsibility, the right to a childhood, and freedom of thought will remain as long as we sustain them and pass them on to our children.
If at any point you have been perplexed and frightened, like me by the complexity of the online world and simultaneously worried for the safety and emotional well-being of your children, this blog is for you. Once a month I will work through a theme, analyse any new apps and trends, and discuss parenting and educational issues that arise from our children inhabiting two overlapping worlds: the online and the offline. DigiScope will help to keep you updated, prepared for the future, and help you to make decisions that will benefit your family and protect the children in your care.