Gary Pope
The Modern Child: Shoelaces and Smartphones
10 mins

This month I delivered the opening address to Cinekid for Professionals. An annual children’s media conference that celebrates global excellence and innovation that is, without doubt the most child-centric conference of its kind in the world.

In this short series of little posts I’ve chopped up my talk into bite size pieces… So, part one: 

Shoelaces and Smartphones

I don’t need to tell you we’re in the midst of a digital revolution. The last time the world shuddered so dramatically, it was 1440 and Johannes Gutenburg introduced his miraculous, game-changing contraption – he called it “the printing press”. It changed everything. Education changed. Thought, ideas, and concepts changed. Childhood changed. The very notion of childhood began its faltering first steps towards what we understand modern childhood to be. Of course, the first children’s book of choice – as directed by the grown-ups - was the bible.

It’s taken a full 575 years for another seismic event to revolutionise the notion of childhood: the touchscreen. A device that - just like a book - can contain wonder and knowledge. A device that – just like a book - is portable. And, just like the book of 575 years ago, carries with it a good deal of status. Once again we’re seeing education change, with thought, ideas and understanding shifting all around us.

It’s overwhelming to be an adult in this digital age. What must it mean to be a child in this maelstrom of change?

Do they even notice?

What feels to us like a swirling typhoon of digital devices and platforms, spawning infinite alternative worlds full of content and experiences, is of course as simple and clear as a bright path on a crisp day to the next generation. Children happily follow their own yellow-brick road – and, just like Dorothy, are not intimidated by even the most powerful and mysterious forces at play behind the curtains of the digital age. It’s us luddites that marvel at things we yearn to understand. Children aren’t mystified by not knowing how a clever new device works – they just get stuck in to it.

Here’s the thing…47% of children between the ages of 3 and 5 can navigate a smartphone. Some sources put the number as high as 70%.

And yet, only 14% of 5 to 8 year olds are able to navigate tying their own shoelaces. Of course, there are developmental reasons for this, but you do need to stop and think about what it actually means to be a modern child.

Children aren’t spending much more time in front of a screen now than they did 30 years ago. However, now we have the introduction of multiscreening, which sees children explode their 2 hours of screen time into 10 hours by using five devices simultaneously! But the pressure to achieve, tiger parenting and over-structuring of free time is eating into the playtime that used to happen after their screen time.

And that doesn’t sound like a very modern direction for childhood to be heading in, does it?

Over the next five or six posts I’m going to share a bit more and make some suggestions for what the children’s content and marketing industries can do to ensure that we keep children on their personal yellow brick road.

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