Saturday, 10 February 2018

Should I Feed the Ducks Instead?

Modern British kids have long online days. You Tube and X-Box appear to be the objects of their undivided attention along with virtual playgrounds Snapchat and Facebook. 

Just as I was once excited about getting home from school to read about Samurai and listen to Rush on my stereo, modern kids can't wait to get in and go on X-Box and listen to Ed Sheeran on their smartphones.

Who am I to say whether one is different to the other and certainly I can't say whether one is better. Can you?

Kids are kids and get excited about stuff and fads, crazes and technology are all part of it for whatever generation.

Yet there persists a nagging feeling among oldies like me that kids are in some way threatened by spending so much time online. 

"We" believe that it could erode their social skills, reduce their attention spans, expose them to daily online violence, even dehumanise them and maybe arching over all these, a general feeling that kids should be playing out in the fresh air with their real life mates grazing their knees and muddying their shorts.

I remember these same issues when I was a kid. I was often happy in my own company and could spend hours and hours in my bedroom doing my own thing, which was, depending on my age, reading, drawing, playing with space and monster toys, researching Kung Fu, identifying fossils, playing guitar and taping music and listening to albums to name a few of my 'projects'.

I thought this was all perfectly normal and as long as I played with friends, which I actually wanted to, my folks seemed happy. My Dad definitely thought my obsession with horror was occasionally unhealthy and did once chuck a monster mag in a bin but I think he knew that it was a global craze that he could never stop it.

Parents always fear popular culture in some way I suppose. Sometimes these fears are valid and sometimes they manifest themselves as mass paranoia. It seems ridiculous to me now that Mars Attacks cards were banned, that horror comics were the enemy of the innocent and that videos were deemed toxic enough to kids that video store owners were actually jailed!

Being a Parent and Grandparent myself I do know that some things are out of my control and that I'm not able to watch over my dependents twenty four seven. And yes, its a crazy world out there and there are some bad people.

Kids though have to lead their own lives and have space to imagine the lives of others. This is how they develop isn't it?

As a nipper I often lived in my own world and I imagine nowadays kids would have said I was a bit geeky, but that word didn't exist in 1973 when I became a teenager for the first time. 

Having said that I did love playing out and playing inside with mates. Either was good and there was always something to do - playing games like Crossfire or Mouse Trap, playing with Action Men, riding scooters and bikes, walking to the park to the swings, Kung Fu fighting in the lounge, training in my home-made dojo, going up town on Saturdays for the Top Rank disco and buying records and going to the cinema.

I'm far less sociable now. I know far fewer people than I did as a kid. I suppose my world has got smaller and this brings me full circle to being online, which I am, obviously, now. 

I too enjoy a cyber life. I do. It connects me to other people, but I can't help feeling that I should be out more in pubs, at sports matches, cycling, walking and feeding ducks. That somehow my time online is bad for me.

This is a pervasive idea. The Internet is the new video nasty, the new horror comic, the new Mars Attacks card. Yes, for some kids its a bad experience and it should be monitored especially for the very young. But for the majority of young teenagers its their portal into another world, a world of online friends, YouTubers, Xboxers and Ed Sheeran.

Who am I to say that my Sixties childhood was any better or for that matter healthier. As long as kids are loved and fed and kept warm in winter and protected from harm they should be fine whatever they're doing.

There are countless old and modern films I could cite as testimony to the rising fear of teenagers' online lives and its 'effects' on them. Just go back to Tron and War Games. Did we really believe that kids playing games would lead to thermonuclear war? It seems laughable now but the paranoia persisted.

Similar horrors lurked in CCTV and TV: The Running Man, ED TV, The Truman Show, The Net, The Ring and Videodrome.

Unfriended, Pulse, Feardotcom, Smiley, Chatroom, iMurders and the Circle are just a splattering of the latest fayre produced by adults to be viewed by a teenage population eager for more online kicks on phones, ipads, tablets and iwatches wherever they are. 

Watching movies about how bad it could get is something we all do. This schadenfreude is at the heart of horror and thriller films and watching them help s us all carry on knowing its just fantasy and we will be alright when the movie's over.

I suppose maybe thats the difference nowadays to when we were kids. TV isn't king anymore. Kids don't come in with grazed knees after scrabbling up the canal bank desperate to watch Crackerjack at 5 to 5, faces reddened with oxygen and shorts blathered in good old-fashioned mud.

The net has taken over and access to any form of cybertainment is universally available to all kids everywhere anytime.

Its a brave new childhood for modern kids but is it really any different from the ones we had?

What do you think readers?


  1. I have a word for any child from any generation;BALANCE.My childhood was the 1970's and half the 1980's.My single digit years were full of indoor activities like toys, reading and a ton of cartoons on TV.But there was also bicycle rides,little league baseball,cub scouts,hiking,and also swimming when the weather was warm.Combine that with school and/or household chores and you have a lot of options.My teen years did see the advent of home video games, and my mother often grumbled if we had a marathon of gaming,but there were days where we got on our bicycles or motorcycles and made for the gravel pits,not returning until dusk.High school was a true challenge keeping ones grades up,and those who played sports(I wrestled for one school year)had a full dance card with practice and competitions.on top of that,kids want to date.That requires time and patience to do right.Did I participate in all of the above?YES.Did I occasionally over do it in one activity or another.YES,because no one's perfect.But I did realize that if I used moderation, I would never be bored.I worry about the media making the outdoors seem so dangerous,from UV Rays and air pollution to drugs and stranger danger.The kids seem to think they are safer online,but then there's just as much danger there too,isn't there?All I can say is keep you wits about you,kids,recognize the difference between good and bad,and...BALANCE.Whew,I'm ready for a nap...

    1. I agree Brian. Balance in all things. Sounds like you had a great childhood full of variety. Your point about the outdoors being made to seem dangerous is bang on. It has become a hostile place, the outdoors. Fewer and fewer kids here play out in the way I did. I'm unsure when it became SO hostile outside, when this trend began. Keeping kids in was how it started and now kids don't want to go out anyway. Their Xbox is just too appealing. Maybe I'm concerned because I've got old and maybe even old-fashioned. I'm inside now and online so I've no real room to talk have I!

  2. Regarding one point you made about 'horror' comics and the like, I think it's a mistake to judge what was considered 'nasty' back in the '40s & '50s by today's standards. For example, back in 1931, Frankenstein was considered quite a shocking movie, not only for it's 'scary' aspects, but for the idea that mere man could usurp God. People fainted at this movie (no doubt some of them were 'plants', but probably not all), yet nowadays, it would hardly raise an eyebrow, never mind a hair on the back of someone's neck. It's the same with the old EC comics - some of the images were quite horrifying at the time (in fact, some still are today), especially to a child, and I don't think there's anything wrong with parents having concerns about what their kids are exposed to. (Not enough of them ARE these days to my mind.)

    Sure, Wertham over-egged the pudding, but there was some truth behind his thinking in regards to what children are influenced by. Today, kids watch people being realistically dismembered, shot, stabbed, blown up, etc., and it doesn't bother them in the slightest. It might not turn any of them into psychopathic killers (though I wouldn't rule out the possibility entirely, at least as far as being a contributing factor), but the fact that they watch this sort of stuff as entertainment surely debases them - and society - in some way?

    That's what I think anyway, but it depends on your point of view. For example, if you think there's nothing wrong with swearing, then it won't bother you hearing it on TV, reading it in books or comics, or listening to it in 'real life'. However, if you think it erodes the integrity of the human soul, then it's not something that you want yourself or your kids to be exposed to. Who's right and who's wrong? All depends what your standards and aspirations are I suppose, but I know what kind of society I'D prefer to live in.

    "A man's reach should always exceed his grasp" runs the old saying. Nowadays we don't 'reach' very far - and the world's a poorer place for it, alas.

    1. Very insightful Kid. Your observations about Frankenstein in 1931 are fascinating.Yes, I agree, what is offensive is relative to the times and there appears to be a general decline in standards. Your point about swearing is well made. I've noticed a slow but steady acceptance of words like fart and pee in all public life like TV ads. Much stronger words have also become common in schools and are often said to staff on a daily basis. Manners are another thing on the wane and adults are just as bad. Road manners are a case in point. Indicating on roundabouts seems to have vanished altogether and undertaking on motorways is on the rise. This is just inconsiderate and perhaps hint at a wider malaise, a growing selfishness in society displayed by both individuals and governments.

      I grew up on a diet of monster films, ghost stories and horror comics like Creepy and Eerie and didn't turn out so bad I don't think. OK, I wasn't exposed to video nasties when I was 10, which I agree would be bad for kids to see for sure. I didn't let my own kids see video nasties either. These films are freely available now but I doubt of they are critical in the anxiety many young people feel. I think thats the result of a decade of austerity at the hands of an increasingly divisive Government in England.

      Whether kids spend too much time online, which was the main point of my post, I'm unsure. I have a sense that childhood shouldn't be so virtual and that kids should spend a lot of time with other kids in the real world like I did but what do I know!

    2. I think that every generation of kids have their own 'thing' to amuse themselves. When you think about it, comics were the 'Internet' of OUR day. Like Brian said, it's all a matter of balance, though that can be a difficult thing to achieve. There'll always be some new form of entertainment along to entrance each new generation, but standards of what's acceptable for kids are eroding all the time, alas. However, it's not just kids, Woodsy, adults are the same. I see couples sitting in restaurants and cafes, with at least one of them texting or speaking to someone else on their 'phone while their friend or partner is ignored. There they are, actually out with a 'real' person, but there's little social intercourse going on between them. Sad.

    3. Yes, standards appear to be on the decline. We live in a world of instant pleasure for young and old. By the way, I have some interesting articles on the evils of horror comics in old popular mags Kid. Mags like Picture Post if I remember rightly. In the attic somewhere. I can send you close-ups of the articles if you want Kid.

    4. It's shocking the way I jumped about in those two comments and expected you to know when I was 'switching lanes'. Obviously the mobile 'phones bit is in reference to adults being just as isolated in their social dealings as kids sometimes are. People seem to sit in pairs (or groups) and ignore one another as they text or chat on their 'phones to someone else. Regarding the Picture Post articles, Woodsy, I wouldn't want to put you to any bother. Besides, such articles sometimes overstated the case - at least by today's standards, perhaps not so much for the times they were written. I'll leave it up to you to decide if you want to go to the bother. Thanks for the offer regardless.

    5. Yep, Mobiles are a modern thing now embedded into our lives. Its a huge problem in schools that haven't banned them. Maybe mobiles really are reducing adults' desire to actually speak to those sat near them. Someone will be researching this I bet. As for the articles, nah problem Kid. Just send me your email addy. Mine is at the bottom of the page for sending it to me. I'll sort it at some point this week.

  3. When I was teaching I did find the kids swore a lot, but not at me. It was common for a kid to hurl expletives at someone and then turn to me and say "sorry sir"! (Which amused me but I tried to hide it!)


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