Yesterday my son had a meltdown and I blame technology. All four inches of it.
This 'meltdown' wasn't of the cute, oh-isn't-that-typical-for-a-toddler type. He's in his last year of primary school. He's 11 for God's sake. Way too old for that kind of nonsense, and a little too young to pin on the hormones. Yet it's happening increasingly, and it's got me in a muddle. Every single day I brace myself for the next onslaught, the next angry outburst, the next clear trigger.
Yesterday the trigger came in the shape of a McDonald's Quarter Pounder Meal.
I had just bought my son a new pair of Nike runners for school (more fool, I) and needed to do a grocery shop."Let's get a quick snack at the food hall before we hit the supermarket," I chirped, happily enough.
"Great! I'll have a large Quarter Pound Meal with a coke," he replied.
I smiled naively back. "Good try, bucko. Let's get something smaller, hey?"
"But I want McDonald's. Why can't I have McDonald's?!"
"Because it's really unhealthy and you don't need that much. We're just getting an afternoon snack before dinner."
"Don't care. I want a Quarter Pounder with fries. And it's got to be large."
I stared at him aghast.
Now, for the sake of word count and the risk of putting you into a coma, I won't take you through the boring histrionics of it all. Suffice to say I left him in the food hall, unfed, and did the grocery shop. I then made my way to the car and he eventually caught up with me, pouting all the way home with nothing but a banana for company (the shoes are going back).
The Me Generation
In retrospect, I don't blame Maccers or Nike. I mean, I'd really like to but that day they were just the triggers that set him off. Again. This kind of behaviour has been intensifying for some time. There's a growing sense of entitlement, a 'Me Me Me!' culture that struggles to take No for an answer. And it's driving me nuts.
I could, of course, blame my own parenting, and you'll be pleased to hear I do, frequently, as I toss and turn at night. Clearly I am failing my son every minute of every day and it breaks my heart. But I'm not alone. Every family I know is going through this same issue, in one way or another, some more violently than others.
Instead, I'd like to blame Apple, or more generally, the computer age. Sorry, guys, but you've stuffed everything up! My sons are now growing up (or not as the case may be) in an era where extraordinary, cinematic-style entertainment is at their fingertips whenever they want it. They are tantalised every moment by an endless parade of flashing, beeping, reward-driven games and apps, and as a consequence have lost all grasp on reality.
Generation Z don't do boring
And they don't do things by halves. Boredom and failure are two things this generation just don't understand and certainly don't tolerate. Online entertainment is never boring, its creators make damn sure of that. They want kids to keep coming back, so kids are rewarded over and over, and over again. What's more, there are no limitations online.
In cyberspace, no-one uses the word 'no'. You are always a winner. You can always have the large Maccers meal; hell, go better--have six!
Want to score goal after goal just like Messi? No worries, FIFA 15 will make it happen! Even better, they'll make YOU Messi. You may never have touched an actual soccer ball but that's irrelevant now. Online you're Messi's equal, you even score more goals than he ever could.
Want to blow someone's head off because ... well, just because? Step back, the choices are beyond endless, they're as overwhelming as the blood and gore on offer. And even if you ban these things from your own home, which we do, they experience them in every single household across their neighbourhood. Everybody's playing this crap, it's insidious and it's omnipresent.
Today our kids can download any R-rated, violence-fuelled, sex-depraved Hollywood flick they like. No waiting for a new movie or TV show to come out (or sneaking a well-worn copy of Playboy into the house). At the flick of the keyboard, it's all there for the taking. And they can take it now, while riding the school bus if they like. No one's checking their age, no one's guiding them through it. It's a free-for-all.
Me? A Luddite?
I know, I know, I'm sounding like an old fart, a Luddite-like grump. I don't hate technology. Hell, without it, I wouldn't be writing this blog now, would I? Or self-publishing my own novels. Or forging a career as a journalist 1000 kilometres from my capital city.
When used creatively, computers and the internet are miraculous, wondrous inventions. They have made so many lives better, including my own. But my boys aren't using computers creatively, they're slaves to it, they're getting sucked into someone else's creative output, and getting absolutely zero back (except an inflated sense of self and some serious attitude).
It's no wonder, then, that the likes of Steve Jobs (and others in Silicon Valley) refused to give their own kids iGadgets. According to a 2010 interview by Nick Bilton in the New York Times, Apple's now deceased co-founder and CEO, Jobs, said his own kids had never used Apple's iPad:
"We limit how much technology our kids use at home."
Do you think Jobs (or Bill Gates for that matter) would have created all they've created if they'd grown up glued to an iPad? I doubt it. I bet they were chucked out of the house and made to find their own entertainment, just like I was. I may still be in my 40s but I, too, grew up in an era where computers were something you read about in sci-fi novels. Mystical and out of reach. Hell, TV hadn't even found its way to my hometown in Papua New Guinea. There was nothing to entertain me but life itself. (How lucky I was!)
There were no screens, there were no shortcuts and redo buttons when I was 11. If you were bored, you were bored, suck it up! If you stuffed up, you stuffed up. If you failed, you failed. Then you dusted yourself off and you got on with it, usually outside, with something analogue, like a toy or a bike, a book or pen and paper.
This new generation wouldn't know what to do with any of those things. And I'm not exaggerating--my son was given some incredible toys for his birthday, actual physical toys, including a remote control helicopter and a DIY solar robot (things my brothers and I would have KILLED for at his age). Those toys are still sitting on his bedroom floor, largely untouched. The robot has not even found its way out of the box yet. His birthday was six weeks ago. It breaks my heart.
And try putting a book or a pen and paper in your child's hands and see how long it lasts. Some will be satisfied for a little while, most will find their way back to a screen, like moths to the flame, as soon as you go and put the washing out.
We've enrolled our boys in sports, and lots of it (soccer, Aussie Rules football, boxing, Futsal...), but you get the feeling they're only humouring you so they can earn enough brownie points to get back on the PlayStation.
I hate how this generation is turning out. I despair of it. Will any of them be writing novels when they're my age? Will any of them be inventing anything or finding the cure for cancer? Or will they be so crippled by an age that delivers everything at the press of a button, and expects very little back, that they can't see beyond the square in front of their face? How is that inspiring? What is that teaching them?
I hate my son's reliability on gadgets, and I hate that he thinks it's okay to demand a large McDonald's meal (straight after being spoiled rotten with expensive shoes I might add), and then refuse to accept no for an answer. To throw a wobbly over something as mundane!
But most of all, I hate that it makes parenting an endless bloody battle. There are no more lazy summer days now. It's nagging, fighting, arguing to get them off screens and outside, and then it's sneakily watching them in case they creep back in or have smuggled an iPod in their back pocket.
Well, not anymore.
As of today my computer is now unplugged to both my sons. Their iGadgets have vanished. The PlayStation is history. It's game over, bucko. No more endless rewards and yes, yes, yes! It's time to get some perspective in the real world, because they certainly aren't finding any in cyberspace.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please drop me a comment below.