This is the third, last part of the interview I’ve translated from Hungarian about children’s development and the role of the media that was made with Gerald Hüther and published in Hungarian here. This part is mainly about what parents should notice, how they could help their children grow up healthily and what long-term changes are to be expected.
“From what signs are parents able to recognize that the virtual world has sucked their children in? And how can they protect their children from the threatening deprivation?”
“If a child prefers sitting in front of the computer instead of running about outside and playing with others, that is, if he/she does not satisfy his/her natural needs, then the situation is worrying, parents already have to respond to this. But not by formulating prohibitions. Instead, they would have to try to present their children with challenges that correspond to the real world, and which can also be met. With adventures, unexpected incidents, surprising, or even dangerous situations that the child can overcome, so that then he become hardened through these.
Therefore, beside the wide computer highways, parents should plant something else in the heads of their descendants. Lots of parent enter their offspring for Asian fighting sports, holidays with camping out, or ask them to look after smaller children.
Some of them may be helped if they can teach old people how to use the computer and the internet. These children will later be able to talk to others and solve problems together. This is because they are provided with a broad spectrum of the real, empirical world by their parents during the years decisive for the maturing of the brain.
On the other hand, children who get immersed in computer worlds will learn too soon that for everything there, all it takes is to press the correct button. They no longer tolerate any mistake, no longer bear frustration, and are not able to maintain control over their impulses. They are no longer able to navigate in the real world.
If, on the other hand, your children are parts of a living community, and they experience adventures like the boy scouts, they will be lured under the spell of virtual worlds much more rarely: they will play with the computer a lot less often and watch far less television. During their subsequent lives they will experience far less disturbance from anxiety, and will not become so uncertain. They will grow into really healthy personalities.
“Let us suppose that such a personality has emerged. As all youngsters, this child will still try out computer games and the Internet. Similarly to others, he will also want to create a chat profile. What dangers arise from this?”
“No child is born computer-dependent. And it is never the strong, lively, open-minded, curious and creative children with good interpersonal skills who are charmed by the electronic media. I can’t see threats for them. They will consider the computer to be what it sould be considered: an excellent tool to serve the efficient use of the brain. They will discover the internet as a gigantic source of knowledge for themselves, which allows them to answer questions about the real life.
“But what happens in the mind of a child of ten when he/she accidentally hits upon a page with pornographic or horrifying content? Does not he/she get too great a shock?”
“Not necessarily. It depends on what the family environment is like, and what role the media play at home. Some content that for us adults appears to be signs of horrible brutality, for a lot of kids appears as one of many possible forms of approaching each other. A child whose mind has already been blunted by passive consuming of the media will not be able to form an opinion on what he can see there. Experience has taught him/her that everything can happen on the screen.
One minute he/she can see that the fox is chasing the bunny, in another that people are laughing when Donald Duck and Pluto are flattening each other, and then, as if nothing had happened, they rise again. Muscle-headed wrestlers smash each other’s skulls on the screen before a yelling crowd, and then the child can see that two people are making love, or, for example, cut off each other’s heads.
The parents have weaned them off the natural feeling of being horrified. The child has already found out that it is pointless to ponder all this. He has learned that he/she is not necessarily able to understand what is happening on the screen.
“But what happens to children who have hardly gained experience yet with the passive media?”
“The child’s brain will be trying to fit this new image, no matter how disturbing, to that already existing, so that he/she can understand it. His/Her impression will be stored as one of the forms of communication among people. It is very important that the parents then clearly explain that this is not a desirable form of co-existence with others. If someone did this to you in the real world, it would be terribly painful for you.
“Children, therefore, need not only tasks which help their development, but also people who give them direction.”
“Yes, they urgently need role models who help them avoid doubtful communities and questionable tasks. Things always go wrong if the children are not able to fully expand their skills.
For this, adults are needed again. The computer industry only satisfies the demand. And as long as there are enough parents who do not understand that children have needs which are best met in the real world, the supply in digital media will increase. And if children grow up among such circumstances, they will seek tasks necessary for their development there.
It is worth stopping to contemplate what may become of a society whose children take leave of the real world. The result of which is a brain that has perfectly adapted to a virtual world of the Internet and to PC games.
“Can you justify this idea neurologically?”
“We already have studies which demonstrate that nowhere else can a man learn better hand skills, or, more precisely, better finger technique than when practicing on a keyboard or writing an SMS (my remark: this is true except in comparison with playing musical instruments, which gives really complete finger control together with aesthetic satisfaction in the long run).This leaves its mark on the brain. Thus, during the last ten years, the region in young people’s brain that directs the thumbs has grown considerably larger.
There have developed finer and finer, denser and denser networks, which allows them to make amazingly fast thumb movements. Young people develop their brains so as to optimally adapt to these requirements. Now the only remaining question is if it is going to be important in the society of the future that man can move his thumb as quickly as possible. Children cannot answer this question yet – it is up to adults to anwer it.
by P. S.