My son’s bedroom has always been a dark and dangerous, one of those places where anything might happen. But even I wasn’t prepared for my late night encounter with his friend’s father. Let me clarify. This experience was a strictly virtual one, the momentary blending of pixels across the ether – webcam to webcam, although the embarrassment of being caught out in my nightclothes was real enough. My teenager has embraced modern technology, which means draughty street corners are out and instant messaging is in.
Armed with laptop, webcam and the absence of vowels required for today’s communication, he conducts much of his social life with the help of Bill Gates and without removing his dressing gown. ‘Disgusting!’ cry the anti-progress police and it would be all too easy to take this route towards family strife. But I’m not falling in step with the populist viewpoint just yet. At least I know where he is at night and with a flat-rate broadband connection there are none of those outsized phone bills that my parents endured when I was his age. Speaking of which, he has just shown me how to make free phone calls from my PC. And what about his room? Now I never step across the threshold without a note book and my best smile. After all, you never know who you might meet.
My relaxed attitude towards web chat is part of a broader acceptance of computers in my children’s lives. Inevitably they will live in a more advanced world than mine so an ability to ride the wave of new technologies is a crucial part of their education and is thus reflected in the school curriculum. Of course I have concerns about the potential dangers, particularly of the Internet and have already observed, firsthand, the reduction of homework to a quick ‘Google’ and the moth like attraction of young children to a lit screen. However, I still believe that, with the right guidance and appropriate supervision, the benefits outweigh the pitfalls many times over.
The very advances that so worry the experts have equipped my sons with valuable life skills way beyond those of this 1970s teenager. Technology literate, politically astute, consumer savvy and in possession of a sophisticated sense of humour – with all these positive attributes, forget those computers, perhaps it’s the girlfriends I should be worried about. I feel sure that my children’s enhanced development owes something to the communications capability and unlimited availability of information made possible by the Internet. I just hope that they will be equally well equipped to deal with the extra responsibilities that come with this shiny new world.
While much is made in the press of the detrimental effects of computers on the young, there are many situations in which they can be used to support creativity and constructive thinking. In our house computers are regularly used for digital photography, musical tuition and composition, animation, graphic design, database construction, programming, research, writing and much more. And yes, they are used for video gaming too. I’ll admit that some of these games push the boundaries of taste and are, at worst, mindless but given the content of your average soap opera, haven’t the children seen it all before? I have to confess that as a somewhat serious teenager, even I lingered briefly in the twilight world of Space Invaders but progressed happily to boys in the end. I’m not too worried – the pull of nature is strong!
Rather than banning games altogether, a bit of research and well thought out choices can reap their own rewards. The right game can even work as a bonding experience for the whole family. As boys grow up it gets harder for mothers to find common ground so I was delighted to discover a shared interest in puzzle adventures such as the acclaimed Myst series, which test observational skills and the ability to think laterally. A particular favourite, based on the Holy Grail conspiracy, gave us all a crash course in medieval art and religious history way before Dan Brown had written one word of The Da Vinci Code. Now you can’t say that about Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly can you?
For those who are still worried that computers will bring an end to civilised society – take heart. Last week I received an email from the moderator of a web forum that is popular with young people. Concerned that the language used on the site had dropped to an unacceptable standard, participants were being encouraged to write in clear and correct English and warned that ‘text talk’ would be removed from the website – immediately. And what about all that sitting around? Some argue that computers are breeding a generation of overweight, exercise-adverse children. Not true. With all that cheap sports equipment available on eBay, my kids have never been so active!