I was born in 1986. I was born before cell phones and AOL and DVD players — but all of those things came to be in my early adolescence. So I had an entire childhood of pre-technology (or, I should say, primitive technology), and then the world changed as I was coming of age.
It’s no question that our society had a major shift in the early 2000s — everything from the way we communicate to the way we do business. Our leisure time has been completely infiltrated by technology — the way we get information, the way we interact in a social setting (with phones in our faces), the way we spend our downtime. And even the way we make money! My job — as a new media freelance writer and blogger — didn’t exist a decade ago.
In the context of human history, we’re riding a monstrous wave of innovation and change.
And maybe this is most apparent when looking through the eyes of a brand-new human, who only knows this as normal.
Of course each generation has their differences — their “Well, when I was a kid!” declarations — but the Now vs. Then childhood experiences are a bit startling.
When comparing my own childhood to my son’s, here are 20 reasons his childhood is different…
I don’t know if it’s better market research or more industry ingenuity, but kids’ toys today just keep getting cooler. I attended the Toy Fair for several years on behalf of Babble.com, and I was always in awe of the new designs and concepts that were unveiled year after year.
..But, to be fair, a lot of that ingenuity circles around technology. Take this LIFE game, for instance, which uses an iPad app in place of a spinner and offers interactive features. Cool? I guess. But a piece of my childhood is withering up.
(It should be noted that there are plenty of non-electronic board games — all of which we prefer to this iPad version. But the toy companies are certainly pumping them out.)
NEW TERMINOLOGY AND MEANINGS (LIKE “DEAD”)
When my son was about 2 years old, I realized that the only time he ever heard the word “dead” or “died” was in the context of an electronic device running out of batteries. (“Woops — my computer died!” or “My phone’s dead!”) More than that, he understood that when something “died,” you simply plug it back in. Simple! Yet that’s not what happens when a person or an animal dies. There’s no plug, no battery replacements. That realization rocked me for a moment — the changing terminologies and associations.
A few months ago, we were visiting our friend’s childhood home, where there was a strange and archaic device hanging on the wall. I explained that before cell phones, everyone had a house phone that was connected by a cord. Some homes had cordless phones (fancy!), but you couldn’t walk too far without it sounding static-y. He was perplexed and intrigued, and I had never felt older in my entire life.
I understand this is how my parents felt explaining vinyl album jackets and 8-track tapes, and yet it’s still shocking. My son will never know what it’s like to rewind a video tape or have a VCR eat his favorite movie. He’ll never walk into a Blockbuster. And PLUTO! Pluto isn’t even a planet anymore!
HD AND 3D SCREENS
What’s it like to enter a world where television and movies are crisper and more beautiful than the real world?
PUBLIC DOCUMENTATION FROM BIRTH
I’m sure we won’t understand the full affects of our baby blogs, Instagram over-sharing, and Facebook albums until our kids are grown. These kids have had their earliest moments — their first breath! — documented and shared in a very public way. Some babies have even had their births live-tweeted!
How will these Blogged About Babies feel in 10 or 20 years? Will it cause problems down the road? Will it further blur the lines of public and private? Are we creating narcissistic monsters who have had their most mundane moments (their bowel movements!) shared online? This public documentation might be the biggest difference between their childhood and ours.
Considering homeschooling wasn’t legal in all 50 states until 1993, homeschooling is an ancient concept that’s coming back into the modern world at record-high rates. In fact, the percentage of school-aged homeschoolers in America has jumped from 1.7% (850,000 kids) in 1999 to 4% (2.4 million) in 2010. And rather than religious reasons (which is how I mostly knew homeschool kids back in my own childhood), more parents are homeschooling now because of safety, drug, and educational concerns.
TECH SAVVY FROM BIRTH
My 11-month-old nephew instinctively knows how to swipe an iPhone screen. My 4-year-old son can navigate an app or a LeapPad game without any kind of direction. And I actually think it’s great. Rather than shielding them from electronics entirely, I think kids will certainly need tech skills in school and in work. All signs point in that direction.
Another big difference I see is the way electronic e-readers are replacing heavy textbooks and even children’s books at times. While we still read real bound-paper books each day (always and forever), maybe kids won’t have the 20-pound backpacks that we had to lug around school!
MORE PHOTOS, MORE VIDEOS, MORE MEMORIES
When I was a kid, we didn’t have easy-access cameras and recorders on hand at any given moment. I actually remember going with my parents to buy a video recorder (I must have been around my son’s age), and it was huge and bulky, and had to be carried around in a case. But now? Now parents can just whip out their phone and snap dozens of photos and videos each day.
I often wonder how that’ll affect kids in the future. We seem to have the strongest childhood memories from home videos and photos, right? They keep those memories alive, in a way. So will kids have more positive memories of childhood from their styled and filtered photos? Will they have more vivid memories, considering more of their life has been digitally captured?
THE LOSS OF PHOTO ALBUMS
From my earliest memories, my parents had photo albums that we could flip through, featuring actual hard-copy photos. They wrote little notes on the back of each photo — the date, the holiday — and neatly arranged them in books. But now we have to print out the photos that we like, or compile digital photo albums that lack the hard-copy benefits.
Not only that, but now a computer crash could annihilate childhood memories the same way that a house fire used to. (Hard drives, parents! Back up those photos!)
BOREDOM? WHAT’S BOREDOM?
I think it’s extremely important for kids to feel bored from time to time — that’s where creativity, imagination, and ingenuity come into play. But with all of the electronic games and apps, there’s less wandering around the house aimlessly, complaining “I’m booooooooored.”
In what dimension are we living that parents have to actively work to keep their kids away from distractions and encourage boredom? (A world that I would have loved as a kid.)
CURSIVE? WHAT’S CURSIVE?
If the Common Core curriculum continues to develop the way that it is, my son will most likely never learn cursive in school. While some states are fighting to restore the cursive instruction, many educators (and parents) feel like it’s an outdated lesson — especially considering most adults use a cursive-print hybrid for signatures and such. While it’s always a little sad to see a tradition fade into the background, I feel like it’s similar to traditional keyboard lessons. My parents were taught the proper way to type on a keyboard, and yet my generation uses a more instinctive way to type.
What do you think? Should kids still learn cursive in school? Or is their time better spent on print penmanship and computer skills?
A “DEFICIT OF PLAY” EPIDEMIC
While I’m not sure my son fits into this category (the majority of his playtime is imaginative and he goes to a play-based preschool), experts have been warning us about how a deficit of play may be responsible for childhood mental disorders. And then there’s the recess issue — with today’s kids having less time to get outside and play.
Many of today’s childhoods are filled with more video games and TV watching than bike riding and tree climbing — leading to a slew of cognitive and physical issues. And while my childhood certainly had its share of SEGA and Disney Channel, it seems to be increasing in this next generation.
Are we hearing more about childhood sensory disorders because there’s a unique sensory overload happening? Or because we just know more about it now? Either way, more kids are being referred to occupational therapists and other cognitive experts than I ever remember as a kid.
ORGANIC/NATURAL CHEMICAL CONCERNS
Back in my day, my parents microwaved plastic and fed us plenty of hormone-filled milk and beef without having a second thought. There was no talk of BPA or the Dirty Dozen. And while we survived (fingers crossed!), here’s one case where my son’s childhood might be a little safer.
AN ABUNDANCE OF FOOD ALLERGIES
When we brought a PB&J sandwich to school, we never had to sit at our own designated table. Kids weren’t on gluten-free diets. In fact, the CDC recently reported that 1 in 20 kids have a food allergy, which is a 50% increase from the late ’90s (when I was a kid).
This is a photo of my husband building a homemade party game for my son’s 4th Superhero Party — and that’s not even the tip of the Pinterest-worthy Birthday Party iceberg. I don’t know if bloggers and pinners have upped the ante on birthday parties or if my childhood parties were unusually normal, but kids are having some crazy birthday parties nowadays.
We own an Apple TV, which means that — if left to his own devices — my son could potentially watch anything he wanted all day long. There’s Netflix. There’s the Disney Junior App. And then there’s iTunes for when something is worthy of a few bucks. Because we don’t have cable, he never has to sit through commercials or wait an extra week for his favorite show (much like today’s binge-watching adults). I don’t allow him to park his tush in front of the screen all day, but the instant gratification is always there. Waiting.
THE FEAR OF GUNS IN SCHOOL
I remember a shift in 1999, after Columbine. I was in middle school, and we were suddenly having bomb threats and there was talk of metal detectors going into schools. And that fear has only increased with the current generation of school-aged kids — exponentially.
Remember when you were a little kid? And your mom was on the phone, or talking to your aunt, or making dinner AND YOU NEEDED HER ATTENTION RIGHT NOW RIGHT NOW PLEASE LISTEN TO ME! I remember that feeling so clearly (and, as a parent, I hope I never forget it), which is why my heart breaks for kids today. I don’t care if you’re the most perfect parent in the world, there have been (and will be) times where you’re distracted by your emails or by Instagram filters. It’s so much easier for parents to get distracted by their smartphones or tablets — and, by the way, what kind of message does that send our kids about their own screen-time use?