l was sitting recently in a doctor’s waiting room. Next to me was a young boy of eight or nine completely absorbed in a shoot-em-up game on his Ipad. His back was bent over and his eyes were glued to the screen in total, absorbed focus. People came and went, the ladies behind the reception desk asked questions, offered advice and gave people forms to fill in. The doctors came out from time to time to usher their patients into their consulting rooms.
The boy saw none of this. He was totally occupied killing aliens.
How do we learn about the world and how it operates? We learn much by observing – by watching and listening to the people around us and by trying to make sense of what we see and hear. But what is this lad seeing and hearing? What world is he striving to make sense of? A world full of aliens, where his job is to shoot them.
Would I have minded so much if he had sat there absorbed in a book? Might I not have been pleased to see him engaged in such a traditional and respected activity? Perhaps, but there is a significant difference between the involvement we achieve when reading a book and when we are shooting aliens on an Ipad,
When I read, I set the pace.
When I play a shoot-em-up on my Ipad, the game sets the pace.
I know that if I lift my eyes from the page of my novel, when I look down it will still be exactly as I left it, I can re-enter its world exactly where I was before I looked up. Not so with my Ipad game. A momentary lapse of concentration might see me dead or missing magic charms, extra powers can popup out of nowhere or I could be suddenly, unknowingly ambushed by a whole new set of aliens.
l am the player, but l am not in control. The level of engagement in these games is of a very different order from the level of engagement in the most engrossing book. To stay in the game the player needs to remain totally disengaged from the environment and everything going on around.
We see children involved like this with tablet games in restaurants, on public transport, in cars, anywhere that adults want a bit of peace and quiet. It is so easy to keep a child occupied with a tablet. But what are they missing out on? The world is going on around them and they are not a part of it and so they are not learning about it.
We have a lot of work to do. Our children are living in a different world and we adults need to understand that world so that we can help our children make sense of it. If we don’t, they will make their own sense, but their decisions will lack the wisdom, experience and advice that parents have always handed their children as their road maps. To fail to do this is to abdicate our responsibility for helping our children grow up.