Is Modern Culture Ruining Our Childhood?

By: Catherine He

Our world has come a long way from the preceding treacherous times, comedically alluded to by some as ‘The Dark Ages.’ This epoch was a time of heavy labour, bonnets, and Little House on the Prairie, but most significantly, it embraces a lack of technological devices, which are ever-present as an irreplaceable component of our current lifestyles.

Now, I’m sure that nearly everyone has heard the phrase, the ‘Good Old Days’, at least once in their lifetime. If not, the statement is seemingly so beloved by the older generation that Gen Z took it upon themselves to adopt it into a somewhat sarcastic expression. In hindsight, this does make sense. Gen Z has thousands of highly intelligent devices at their disposal, giving us the ability to obtain the answers to their burning questions in an instant. This isn’t new either; this special feature has been ingrained into daily life since the day they were born. For the stereotypical Gen Z-er, a world without technology is a world incomplete. Some even go as far as to say, “I can’t imagine how boring it must have been to live in the era before technology.” There’s no doubt that the younger generation has developed a reliance on the newfound intelligence that modern culture has offered. The real question becomes, have these developments ruined the purest times of our lives?

In order to understand, we must learn about what the term ‘modern culture’ actually signifies. According to Reference, modern culture refers to “the shift in collective thought that took place with the rise in scientific advancements during the Renaissance.” Put into simpler terms, we are essentially dealing with the change in lifestyle that has emerged with new technological developments, which led to a new way of conduct altogether.

Image from Reference

As for the ‘Good Old Days’, you might be asking yourself how this term was even coined, because obviously that period is incomparable to the contemporary one. However, before hastily dismissing the idea, let’s take a step back to unpack precisely what made this period so good in the first place to be deserving of its endearing name. After all, it had to have come from somewhere, right? 

When people refer to the ‘Good Old Days’, they are almost always implying a pleasanter and better era in a nostalgic manner, yearning for a time long gone: childhood. Childhood is pure but fleeting, amusing and bittersweet all at the same time. It’s a time that many believe should not be tampered with due to the fact that it is the height of an individual’s worldly discoveries and finding true nature. With this in mind, aside from being seen as a more refined era, the ‘Good Old Days’ actually had quite a few things to offer to an individual’s youth. Using older generations as our subject, their childhoods were often filled with humble yet beautiful memories – playing with balls made of pig’s fat, thrilling game nights featuring picking up Mikado sticks, and running outside in the pouring rain just for giggles, to name a few. In essence, their childhood was not a product of exploitation by manipulative corporations wanting to make a few extra bucks. Their childhood was pure to their sincerest desires and ever fruitful. Learning to enjoy little luxuries in life is the basis of any happy existence.

Image from iStock

In juxtaposition, these days, children as young as toddlers are gifted tablets, paving their entrance into modern culture as we know it. While 5-year-olds spend their days playing Plants vs. Zombies all day long might have seemed unreasonable a few years back, it has now become the new norm. In fact, video games have become an entire pastime. Some of our older counterparts may never understand why staring at a screen indoors for hours on end would be deemed amusing in any way, shape, or form, but this is exactly what defines modern culture. Of course, we can’t forget our best friend, social media, forcing societal ideals onto impressionable kids, shoving unattainable standards down our throats, while all we can do is pray not to choke. As a matter of fact, the American Psychological Association states that studies have found normal children today report more anxiety than child psychiatric patients in the 1950’s. A large part of this is thanks to the new play-toys that modern culture has introduced, and children being acquainted with the harsh realities of the cruel world much earlier, removing the enjoyment attached with being young. More and more children are unhappy, which is the most significant change in childhood.

As new developments have advanced society, competition has ramped up significantly as well. While job aspirations of becoming a textbook doctor or a lawyer may not have necessarily changed all that much, there is an increasing pressure to do well in school, get into a top-tier university, and have a well-paying job. In addition, with a new field of STEM that wasn’t as prominent previously, things are even more ruthless than ever before. We’re now asking 10-year-olds who can barely long divide to determine their future and sign up for activities that look good on university applications, disregarding the fact that it will eat away at all their pre-existing free time meant for self-discovery. For older students, time without worry is a thing of the past, something they long for but has become certainly unattainable. The most temperate moments in life have disappeared into thin air thanks to modern culture’s unwavering ideology.

Image from The Conversation

With these two different lifestyles, there is a clear and obvious contrast between the two ideals. However, are the ‘Good Old Days’ really all that much better? Is our childhood being stripped away because of the current times? Supposedly the older generation was more active, went outdoors more often, and spent their entire youthhood face-to-face with others; does modern culture allow the newer generation to have the opportunity to enjoy the same pleasures? Some might disagree. After all, the image of the average teenager is not the most flattering one: sprawled across a messy bed, cooped up in their room 24/7, being entertained by a blinking box of metal. There has been a drop off in honest-to-goodness, pure socialization, the kind that involves two faces in close proximity. One might argue that youth are wasting away, their youngest years being torn apart by modern culture. Instead of enjoying the beauty of youth while it lasts, they are straining their eyes, or tearing themselves apart with the anxiety of seeking validation in the online sphere, or crafting a counterfeit image of themselves in an attempt to seek satisfaction.

Perhaps we’re just the first generation of this new time – the guinea pigs, if you will. If you ask today’s youth, many of them will make a clear indication that they will not give their children technological devices young, after having experienced the impacts of it on themselves during their formative years. Many of them will also tell their children to do as they please, to limit anxiety in their developing minds. Modern culture is modern for a reason – it’s the latest, and arguably the best. It’s just a matter of harnessing our newfound power into something that benefits us…or some would like to think. The topic, especially when debated among individuals of tremendously wide age gaps, is controversial. Perhaps the honest answer lies only in the sands of time.

Given this analysis, the question of the hour remains: is modern culture ruining or enhancing our youth? Despite the dark realities hidden behind the celebrated shadow of modern culture, there are obvious advantages to a more efficient and intelligent life. However, above all attempts to pinpoint an answer, the truth is that your childhood is what you make of it, and you are entitled to do whatever that entails.

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