Using social media is making our children depressed. Online games help our children to multi-task at speed. Video games are reducing our children's ability to focus for any period of time. Social media is allowing more shy children to express themselves. Children who spend too much time on electronic games show higher incidences of obesity. The Internet is a fabulous learning resource for children. The Internet warps our children's minds.
Each of these is a finding from a different recent report on children's interaction with our rapidly evolving technology landscape. It's a confusing mix of messages designed more, in my view, to grab attention than to create a constructive way forward for children and technology.
Headlines aren't usually made by balanced comments. And too many commentators are leaping onto opposing bandwagons that try to paint online games, social media or the Internet as either the evil spawn of Beelzebub or the road to salvation.
The reality is, like most other things, it's not that simple. Our children need to be very comfortable with technology developments - their world will be unimaginably different to ours in terms of what they will interact with technically. But developing their technical prowess shouldn't mean sacrificing social skills, or intimacy with nature, or fitness and health or manual and creative abilities.
So the trick is to find balance. And often, that's not even to balance time spent on a computer with time out climbing a tree. Increasingly the balance is in not seeing the physical and the online worlds as two entirely separate ones that never meet, but rather finding ways to bring the two together. And that's not to forget the other world that children (and adults for that matter) should inhabit and excel in - the creative and imaginary one.
That is the underlying philosophy behind what we're doing at Freaky Rivet. We are creating an environment to get children moving, creating and exploring, and we're using technology as a part of that mix.
Today, that means the publication of activities that are mostly in the physical or natural world. Here’s an old favourite by way of example. As a child, I remember going armed with a list to our nearby woods to hunt down and bring back different types of twig or leaf or flower. Well, today, scavenger (as many of you will remember it being called) can be brought into the 21st century and enhanced.
Why just bring back the twig when you can take the whole tree? And what if you also had to find and bring back a certain type of cloud? Or a smile? Or the sound of a cricket? Try fitting any of those in your pocket or a plastic bag as we had in yesteryear. But play ‘Digital Capture’ and the limitations have just been blown away. Armed with a smartphone (or a cheap digital camera), send the kids out on a game to see who can first bring back pictures or recordings of whatever is in their environment. Here’s a video of when we asked ours to go play.
Image source: San José Library