I cannot help but feel pity for today’s youngsters, even the skateboarders.
We continue to fail them over everything from their diet to their schooling, put all kinds of pressure on them to grow up too quickly and demonise them at almost every opportunity.
In many ways it is the lot of the teenager to be picked on by those who claim “it wouldn’t have happened in my day”. Interesting to note, however, that the National Union of Teachers is now calling for a return of the “good old days” of the more liberal teaching approach of the early 1980s.
It appears we are clueless about the way forward for this particular generation. We fear the direction they are heading in, even though we are the ones that have created the signposts that are sending them forward.
The latest study to paint a dark, doom-laden future for our children comes from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), which has sounded the alarm bells about how young people are effectively being “raised online” by spending more than 20 hours a week on the internet. At least it is all doom and gloom if you read some of the media coverage.
The IPPR research found young people are “constantly connected”, staying on their computers into the early hours and leaving their mobile phones on all night in case they receive a text message. It will publish a full report next month, but the IPPR maintains more needs to be done to protect young people from inappropriate content and to promote and enforce guidelines on the limits of acceptable behaviour.
The fact that four out of five children in the UK aged five to 15 have access to the internet at home should not come as a surprise. Equally, there is no great shock in learning that 49% of children aged between eight and 11, and 80% of those aged 12 to 15, have their own mobile phone.
This is the way forward, the one we are creating for them. Technology advances and we create an environment for it to become an increasingly dominant force in just about everything we do.
So why is the tone of so much of the coverage of the IPPR’s research painting such a bleak future?
The answer lies in a recent story involving teenagers and the internet. The scaremongering, ignorance and downright stupidity that surrounded a series of teenage suicides in Bridgend highlights the mainstream media’s approach to technology in general and the internet in particular. It doesn’t help when our decision-makers display a similar degree of ignorance.
The internet and social networking remains high on most news agendas, with the focus being on finding the negative aspects – such as the rising tide of ID fraud, employees criticising the company they work for and employers banning access to the internet for personal use. Little wonder there was a feeding frenzy when you have teenage suicides and social networking apparently colliding.
There are numerous taboo issues within the media as a whole (with a few exceptions) – suicides and mental health being top of the list. Increasingly it appears that the internet is joining them. It is becoming the bogeyman that the media loves to cite as a cause of all our ills.
The IPPR report does throw up some interesting points and a few areas of concern. For example, two in five children aged eight to 11 and over two-thirds aged 12 to 15 say they mostly use the internet on their own at home.
The lack of parental supervision, combined with a general lack of understanding that many parents have towards the internet and a growing tendency to abdicate responsibility for the upbringing of their own children, means the potential for serious problems does exist.
But the media’s capacity to feed parental ignorance and fuel their fear and loathing of the internet does no-one any favours.
The internet is here to stay, technology will continue to advance and the younger generation will move forward with it. The rest of us are being left behind, yet we are the ones attempting to dictate the direction we head in.
The IPPR is right in calling for greater official involvement and for technology companies to act responsibly.
But I am more convinced than ever that the biggest threat and problem we face is not children misusing the internet or spending too long online, it is the failure of their parents’ generation to keep pace and the media’s scaremongering that fuels suspicion and ignorance.