High Tech Toys + Childhood = Meh…

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

The warmer weather we have been having lately has done wonders to bring the residential streets of Moncton alive.

In my own neighborhood, during a typical day in the winter, the stray dog owner will take a daily walk and some will walk over to a friend’s house, but there is otherwise little activity outdoors. A snowstorm will bring diligent and tidy neighbors out to shovel their driveways and sidewalks and kids out to play in snow day spirit, but the amount of people a snowstorm brings outdoors is incomparable to the amount of people that warm spring weather brings outdoors is incomparable.

When I was in elementary school (this sounds a bit like the beginning of one of those ”when I was a kid…” stories, doesn’t it?), I remember spending hours playing outdoors with my younger brother and the neighbors. At that age, my favorite activities were reading and playing outside. I disliked having to partake in evening activities because they took up time that I preferred spending with my nose in a book or running around the yard. My blessed parents were supportive and willingly supervised as we kids caveated outdoors and encouraged my reading habit through new books and multiple trips to the library.

Of course, being a typical child raised in the 21st century, I watched my fair share of TV cartoons and wasn’t deprived of Google and computer games either. However, looking back, aside from learning to use a web search engine, to type, and to wrestle away a remote control, I didn’t gain much from spending time in front of a screen and it certainly wasn’t as healthy as being active outdoors or as educative as reading.

Many people have made speculations on the future of the place of technology in our everyday lives. Some say that there’s a limit to how much technology we can handle using, that at some point people will tire of new gizmos and gadgets and return to a more simple way of living. Others think that there is no limit to the incorporation of technology in our lives.

And there are also people, perhaps the majority, who are somewhat in between both viewpoints. I fall into this category. Humans have shown themselves able to adapt to plenty of ”new technology” in the past– books, movies, CDs, artificial lighting, insulated buildings, etc. I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to adapt to more. It seems that every time technological advances are made, everyone is convinced that they are dangerous, that they won’t last. Yet, obviously technology is everywhere in our lives. However, while gadgets and gizmos are useful and often a bit addictive, there’s a bit more to life.

It’s important that kids and teens are adequately challenged in their everyday life. Virtual games and thought provoking reading found on blogs and websites can be challenging. However, few naturally seek out difficulty and the web doesn’t impose new experiences on anyone, while real life does.

Communities must realize the importance that investing in youth by interacting with them and supporting them in active, healthy activities holds. It is all too easy for parents to rely on electronic babysitters and for youth to escape their troubles by retreating to an online world. Yes, kids and teens are attached to their cell phones, computers, and TVs, but ultimately, I think that overuse of high-tech toys is rooted in a norm of unbalanced lifestyles.

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on May 14th, 2011.

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