Sunday 21 January 2018

We might just end up with more Trumps - and fewer Michael Ds

Stella O'Malley.
Stella O'Malley.
Cotton Wool Kids by Stella O'Malley.

Many parents are afraid that if their kids don't get on the tech train early, then they will be left behind. Indeed, because technology is changing so quickly, it is often difficult to fully grasp the latest technological advances, and so many adults walk around with the vague feeling they are missing something.

Therefore, many parents are determined to ensure their kids will better understand the complexities of technology, enrolling them in coding classes while they are still very young. This is despite the fact that studies show that every few years 60pc of our technical skills become obsolete - and so any programming languages learned by children today are likely to change utterly by the time they are actually earning adults.

Jim Taylor - author of Raising Generation Tech: Preparing Your Child for a Media-Fueled World - has written extensively on the subject of children learning to code, and he argues that acquiring the skill at a young age isn't actually the key to success.

According to Taylor: "What will make kids successful in this tech-driven world is whether they can think - creatively, innovatively, and expansively - and that is accomplished through free, unstructured play."

Moreover, although coding has its place, it's not all that complicated to learn, and a lot of brilliant coders learned to code as adults. As Taylor points out: "Coding is a box, in terms of thinking; it is a beautiful box, it is an elegant box, but it is still a box with limited options."

We live in a tech-dominated world and our children will have tech-skills - this is not in dispute. Perhaps the real issue here is whether parents should really be attempting to develop random, future money-making skills for their children, or should they instead encourage children to just enjoy childhood and give them the chance to get to know themselves during this special time?

Why does everything about childhood suddenly need to be about improving, developing, sooner and faster? Once the child becomes an adult, the responsibility of needing to earn a crust will impact their free time and they might never again have the opportunity to spend leisurely hours just enjoying the moment.

Indeed, when I look back at my own childhood, it is this leisurely approach to time that I most envy. The hours upon hours I spent playing curbs with my friends, listening to music and writing out the lyrics of songs from the radio were relaxed and enjoyable - there was no angle or agenda and I was free to spend my time however I wished.

This freedom is exactly what children today are missing. Kids need time to develop their sense of self; they need time to get in touch with themselves so that they can slowly but surely find out who they are and what they like. If the child is hurried along, dragged from one brain-developing opportunity to another, then they will lose touch with themselves and with their ability to think for themselves.

If parents are determined to send their children to extra classes, then surely it is more beneficial for them to attend right-brained activities such as music, art or physical pursuits so as to balance out the general tendency in schools to focus upon left-brained activities such as logic, analysis and memory.

We need to be more "whole-brained" in our approach to life, so that we can live a more balanced life. Many experts argue that our propensity to value left-brained activities over right-brained activities is leading our children to a more vacuous and empty existence. Clinics all over the country are filled with successful people who have lost the ability to listen to their intuition and inner wisdom and consequently have become consumed with anxiety and overwhelmed by life.

The arts are special - they touch the soul and strengthen the spirit. There are few among us who don't have a certain song or film or book that helps us make sense of this world.

Most of us accept that when children grow up to be adults, it is likely that they will experience a time when life's difficulties will threaten to consume them. It is at this point, when a person is feeling totally bent out of shape, weakened and unable to go on, that they really need to have something to give their life meaning; something that transcends the drudgery of life and moves them to a more profound state of being.

Coding, logic or analysis may not have the power to do this, but the arts - be that music, art or literature - can often lift the human spirit beyond a mere physical existence to a more profound and meaningful state.

Introducing children to the arts is such an important and worthwhile gift that it cannot be overvalued. When I looked at the United States last weekend, I felt eternally grateful that Irish people have enough vision to elect a poet as president.

Nevertheless, the current worldwide trend that values success and performance over depth and integrity may mean that, if we're not careful and if we continue to push our children towards achievement, then the world will end up with more leaders like Donald Trump and fewer like Michael D Higgins.

Stella O'Malley is a psychotherapist and the author of Cotton Wool Kids, published by Mercier Press

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