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Drawing Contrasts: Childhood In The 90s Vs Childhood Now

Posted: August 20, 2020

Was it better to be a child in the 90’s more than now?

The other day, while rummaging through the chest of drawers in my room, I chanced upon a few photographs from my childhood years. Tinged with a dull yellow layer, the pictures looked worn-out from having been stacked at the same place for years together. One particular picture had me and my brother displaying our widest grins, perhaps captured after an hour spent playing hide and seek outdoors. I must have been around 6 years old and my brother 3. The happiness emanating from the picture was almost palpable – our eyes twinkling with mischief, distinctly crinkling at the corners.

The pictures are a poignant reminder of my childhood, vestiges of which sometimes I still search for wistfully. But, even though looking at those pictures made me deeply nostalgic, it set me thinking too. What comprises of childhood today is vastly different from what I was accustomed to as a child in the 90s.

Today, technology (read: internet) has seeped into the lives of children in a way that imagining a life without it is impossible. It is far too intricately infused in their lives for them to even fathom a life separate from it.

But, this wasn’t the case in the 90s. My childhood days seem so far removed from how kids experience childhood today. We belonged to the generation of kids where owning a computer itself was a luxury many couldn’t afford, and one that induced the envy of friends and enemies alike. Forget owning a computer, to even access the internet, we needed to visit the nearby internet cafes, chargeable at Rs 20 per hour. Unthinkable now, right?

With that thought, my mind quickly transports me to my days of yore – a childhood unmarred by technological dependence, and deeply resonant with outdoorsy activities. Vivid mental images flash before my eyes as I fondly recall those days – when power outages meant playing outdoors with cousins and neighbourhood kids, summer vacations meant visiting grandparents’ homes, and rainy days meant making paper boats to float in the water puddles. Sunday mornings included sleeping in late and waking up to the tantalizing aroma of poori sabjee bought from the corner shop. Birthdays comprised of intimate gatherings at home interspersed with vibrant conversations and sumptuous meals. Meals which were the resultant output of our mothers’ hard work – savoured by family and friends. The responsibility of buying the needed stock for the meals would be our fathers’.

Emulating actors with a phantom cigarette candy between our lips exemplified being cool. In the evenings, returning home with mud-smeared faces and stained clothes invited our mothers’ admonishments. But, the glass of cold lemon juice waiting for us on the dining table was enough to make us happy. But, would children of today be able to adapt to leave alone relish a laid-back life of this kind? I highly doubt it.

Today, I see 12 year olds in social settings, hunched over their hand-held devices, incapable of engaging in real-time conversations without the glass screen acting as a mask. Sometimes, these kids even blatantly disregard anyone attempting to make conversations,and pointedly ignore questions directed at them. Their parents, visibly embarrassed, just look on. I wonder then how my parents would have disciplined me had I acted that way as a child. Such different times!!

Another stark difference I have noticed in the kids of today is their approach towards boredom. In our time, if we ever complained about being bored, our parents would reprimand us, citing examples of how we could productively utilize our time. Consequently, we learnt to accept and embrace occasional moments of inactivity as a part of our lives without driving ourselves into a frenzy. But, the same approach does not work with today’s kids. In an age characterized by abundant quick fixes and constant flurry of activity, being bored amounts to a colossal waste of time – time that can be utilized in attending parties, or playing endless games on playstations, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.’

Agreed that today’s kids are powerhouses of information and know far more than I ever did at their age, but such knowledge comes at a price – innocence. Childhood is essentially synonymous with innocence. But, today with such easy access to internet and subsequently adult content, can we keep the innocence of children intact? “A life absent in real conversations, but rich in social media presence” is the motto today’s kids swear by. But, how healthy is such a life? These are the questions that we should ponder upon.

In my humble opinion, such a life, although exciting from afar, is largely inconsistent with age specific norms to be followed for a healthy childhood experience.

That said, it would not be fair to downplay the way technology has simplified life for us. From promptly looking up the meaning of a word to booking flight tickets, everything gets done in a matter of minutes, a liberty unavailable to us in our younger years. But, it is a double-edged sword, which if not used cautiously could prove to be detrimental for children.

We should carefully monitor screen time of children and strictly police the content they consume on a regular basis. Once we manage to do that technology could be our children’s strongest armour, instead of their worst enemy.

HR by profession, but a writer by choice, I find creative respite through writing.

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