Parenting: teens

How can parents share music and books they love with children of wired generation?

Families are atomised, the home is a honeycomb of cells not a collective space, and kids lost in their own electronic world shut themselves off from their heritage. What to do?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 October, 2015, 5:05am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 October, 2015, 5:05am

I worry about the privatisation of space the internet has heralded, leading to the atomisation of the family in a way that those who, two generations ago, complained about television's malevolent effects could only have guessed at.

I have chronicled the effect it has on my family, each member retreating to their bedrooms with their personal devices, so that the house becomes a honeycomb of separate cells rather than a collective space. But driving home from a holiday with my four daughters, aged from eight to 22, a surprise complaint from my most pro-technology daughter, Jean, the oldest, suggested another way in which electronic media are damaging the fabric that holds a family together.

She was enjoying control over the car's sound system, sharing the music she had come to love partly as a result of me playing it when we were in the car together when she was a child - old R&B, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Marvin Gaye. Jean was hoping to pass down these inheritances to her two younger sisters, Eva, 13, and Louise, eight.

But Louise and Eva were oblivious, sitting in the back seat with headphones on, inhabiting their own electronic worlds.

"Such a shame they're not getting to experience this," said Jean.

It made me realise that electronic atomisation isn't only isolating children in their present, but cutting them off from their past because they are being divested of their cultural inheritance.

This inheritance can take many forms, of which music is only one. Some - such as cooking or reading books - are relatively unaffected by developments in communication. Others, such as films and music, are transformed. One of the great pleasures in life, as a parent - and, as it turns out, as a sibling - is to pass one's cultural enthusiasms on to a new generation. Maybe my children would enjoy my favourite children's movie, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T, or the plaintive singing of Shirley and Dolly Collins, but they will never find out if personal control of media is taken to such a degree that they are never exposed to it.

This is one of the paradoxes of choice - the more we have, the more we stand to lose. We can never be cut-off individuals - instead our children are giving over the collective to another agency, an impersonal force represented by social media and marketing algorithms. Children watch something on YouTube or Netflix and get a host of other recommendations from a computer program.

Meanwhile, you are sitting on a hinterland of cultural delights, which your children now may never get a chance to navigate.

So, maybe my children would be bored by Fawlty Towers, or Nathan Abshire and His Pine Grove Boys - or maybe not. Nowadays, they are unlikely to find out, because, unlike previous generations, they are so influenced by their real and virtual peer groups that their view is circumscribed.

My wife and I limit screen time and practically force the children to listen to us reading from books we like, sometimes under great protest. We rail against the headphones. But it is a losing battle. In some senses it was ever thus - but for this generation the past is becoming more distant than ever. It's all a result of the new connectivity: as it cements one generation to its peers (and impersonal marketeers), it separates them from its predecessors. Thus a new generation gap is born.

Having said that, I've just spent a wet week on holiday at a rented house with a 3D projector for TV and video games - like a home cinema - and we have not enjoyed so much shared family entertainment for years. Maybe what the god of technology takes away with one hand, he (or she) gives with the other. But I still think the balance sheet stands in debit.

The Guardian