SIX-YEAR-OLDS have the same understanding of mobile phones and tablets as 45-year-olds, Ofcom has found. I have suspected this for a long time. Our children are way ahead of us when it comes to technology. I look at my two sometimes and suspect they might be prototypes of an alien race of robots.
I even begin to wonder if the human race will evolve with super-quick and agile fingers whilst antediluvian characteristics such as legs will begin to disappear. Then I go to the kitchen and get on with the tea whilst they build imaginary worlds on the iPad.
I’ve watched my eight-year-old daughter programme a Sky box for my friend, who is even worse with technology than I am. Lizzie instructed me to talk to the man on the phone on loudspeaker whilst she pressed all the buttons and my friend made the coffee. She had it working in about 10 minutes. We adults would still have been scratching our heads and reaching for the gin.
I’m glad that my daughter has a natural bent towards technology. In fact I’m in awe. When the fuse box – I think it has another name these days but not I’m 100 per cent sure – blew the other night, she was first on the scene with her own little screwdriver set. Now she knows all about trip switches there will be no stopping her. I think she might end up learning how to defuse a bomb before she sits her GCSEs.
While some parents would be terrified of a tech-savvy child, I am celebrating. In fact, I’ve really pleased that both mine are that way inclined. My boy Jack, who is almost 12, lacks the innate talent with wires his sister has, but as I write this I can hear him on the Playstation. He is setting up an online “clan”, devising a network of friends with whom he can play video games on the internet. We’re keeping an eye on it of course, monitoring any unsavoury characters who might try to infiltrate his group. However, he tells me that he is contacting kids of his own age from Scotland to Devon and they all have one thing in common: an interest in online gaming.
Should I be worried? Should I tell him that this is forbidden? Some parents might say I should, just as they would tell me that it’s not a good idea for my daughter to upload the short films she makes to YouTube. How can I stamp on this though? As far as I am concerned, technology should take them as far as it possibly can. It not only builds bridges, it also opens up horizons.
On one hand, it is amusing that adults can’t get their heads around this kind of thing. On the other though, it’s a serious concern. How can we call ourselves parents if we have no understanding of an activity which our children spend the best part of their waking lives doing? According to Ofcom almost nine out of 10 young people aged 16 to 24 have a smartphone, and spend an average of three hours and 36 minutes a day glued to them. I can tell you from personal experience that they start working up to that level of engagement way before then. However, we shouldn’t allow our own ignorance to become an iron curtain which falls between parent and child.
Being a technophobe when you’re also a parent is nothing to brag about. Getting our heads around technological activity is as vital a skill as being able to change a nappy and answer interminable questions about why the sky is blue. If nothing else, we really need to get with the programme to prevent online abuse and bullying. If we don’t know the difference between Facebook posts and private messaging, we’re fighting with one hand behind our backs.
However grown-up and savvy our children appear to be, they still need us to be their protector. And it’s not just about protecting our offspring, it’s about protecting ourselves. Only the other day a friend told me that his son is in disgrace for the rest of the summer holidays. This lad, who is eight, had racked up a bill of £400 “buying” football players on his Fifa game. This is a nice respectable middle-class family with two parents who are social workers. You might think they would know better. They know plenty about parenting for sure, but nowhere near enough about what their children are getting up to.
And that’s why this Ofcom study really should be required reading for us all. It also found that today’s young people might be well up on smartphones and tablets but they are eschewing the traditional telephone.
Teenagers spend just three per cent of their communications time making voice calls. The vast majority of their communications (94 per cent) is text-based, such as instant messaging or using social networking sites. There is only one conclusion to this – it’s great to be able to communicate, but none of us must forget how to talk, especially to each other.