Saturday, 10 March 2018

Ministers Confusing Themselves With Parents

Sometimes I can't believe what I read: this time about government ministers wanting to regulate how long children spend on the Internet. It is not politicians' job to run the country in loco parentis - so even if it is the case that children are spending too much time on the Internet, this area is one for the parents to regulate, and parents only, not the state. But illiberal nannifying aside, I'm not even sure that this is much of a concern in the first place - in fact, the intention may be rather misplaced.

As it happens, I saw one or two pictures doing the rounds in recent weeks, lamenting the fact that kids have forgotten how to go out and play because they are over-consumed by attention to digital devices. I've no doubt there are conditions under which that's true, but I think the narrative that kids are missing out on playing in the woods because of their iPads may be mistaken.

When I was a boy I played out with friends; on the swings and slides; on skateboards, on bikes, even at being ninjas. If I'd grown up with an iPad, and the entire world's knowledge readily available at the touch of a button, the outdoor activities probably would have been less alluring to me.

Don't get me wrong, it can be fun playing outside when you're young - and no child ought to be at a computer for too many hours a day. But I think it is a misjudgement to assume kids are missing out on enjoyment because they are indoors on digital devices rather than outside playing netball or climbing trees.

And surely, if children found more enjoyment playing outside than on their digital devices, they would spend more time outside. Maybe when we were kids we played outside because that's the best we had - and maybe now there are more options, the outside playing time doesn't satisfy quite so much when compared with the alternatives.

It's equally likely to be true that as material progression occurs, attitudes change relative to expectations. A Christmas stocking filled with 1970s presents would disappoint a contemporary child to about the same extent that it would elate a 1940s child. Older people still find satisfaction in listening to the radio and watching scheduled TV programmes with adverts. Younger people have been accustomed to instant downloads whenever they want something.

I like television; I like films; I like reading books; and I like going out - but I find my juices run out on those things quicker than they run out on being on my computer, with its heady mix of writing, debating, surfing and entertainment - and that is probably true for many younger people too. They don't do many of the things their parents did, because they don't have to. And in all likelihood, their children and grandchildren will have ways of entertaining themselves that will make today's iPads and gaming consoles seem quite prosaic in comparison.