~ by Bertha Henson ~

My nephew, aged 3, is teaching his grandma how to use the iPhone. His tiny fingers fly across the iPad screen too, killing monsters and turning nursery rhymes on and off, low volume, high volume. Brows furrowed, he can spend hours focused on the gadgets. The house is quiet.

Strange how in the past, how parents dump their children in front of the television set to keep them out of mischief. Now you achieve the same effect with smaller stuff.

I am not comfortable with his fascination for mobile gadgets. So whenever I am with him, we engage in sword-play, catching, a bout of wrestling, colouring and Lego building. He still doesn’t want to look for caterpillars and grasshoppers on the condo grounds and said a definite no to hunting for spiders…Why am I not comfortable? I am not sure. Perhaps, because that was not the way my peers and I grew up.

Which was why I was interested to read the ST report on the Linksters, whose young lives revolve on their mobile gadgets. The survey confirmed what we already know – that they spend most of their time online, connected to friends and prefer to communicate virtually. That they grew up in affluent times and want different things from their parents and grandparents.

Okay. So what? Is this a good thing or bad thing? Something that society has to live with, because they will BE that society soon? Or something to counter now?

The only supposed consequence reported was that employers (those old fuddy duddies) will have a harder time dealing with them when they get out in the workplace. Yesterday’s Sunday Times piece by Serene Goh also noted that their views will be formed  by the peers, rather than the more steadying influence of the older and wiser. (P.S. – Shouldn’t the survey have been reported FIRST, before a commentary run?)

I was also drawn by sociologist Tan Ern Ser’s remarks that the “good news” (in quotes) is that the youngsters are still exposed to community projects, internships and part-time jobs.  I assume then that the survey is “bad  news”?

I think parents badly need some guidance now on the pros and cons of bringing up a Linkster. Time and again, you see reports of studies on the good/bad effects of such connectedness. The general focus, however, has been to shield the youngsters from predators online and bad material.

What about the whole online/mobile culture? Will Wikipaedia be the source of all knowledge? Will everything that happens or is said become a question of whether you ‘Like’ it or not? Will friendship be measured by the number of Facebook friends you have, rather those friends who will offer you a REAL shoulder to cry on?

I consider them pressing questions because parents can switch off the television, but it’s harder to keep a mobile phone out of a youngster’s hands. Or maybe they shouldn’t? We definitely need some pretty expert opinion here.

My nephew knows not to touch MY iPhone – on pain of the cane. I’d rather much prefer he gets bruised  and knee scrapes and the house be filled with his hollering – than quiet tapping. Someone please tell me why.

This article first appeared on Bertha Henson's blog. Bertha Henson is a former Associate Editor of The Straits Times.

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