The relationship between children and various forms of New Technology is one that has a lengthy history – albeit one that, in the main, has focused on the damaging effects of such technology – from radio, through cinema and television to computer games and social media.
More-recently, however, a further strand in this relationship has started to emerge with the development of “wearable technology” that includes, among other things, the ability to monitor passive and active motion: the former in the sense an alarm sounds if the wearer hasn’t moved for a specified length of time and the latter if they appear in one location (such as a local high street) when they are supposed to be in another (such as school).
If we think about this relationship sociologically, the focus on children is not accidental given the way adult – child relationships have generally developed across Western societies over the past 300-or-so years:
Jenks (1996), for example, argues that childhood “is not a natural but a social construct” and its status is, to a large extent, determined by adults – and he identifies two broad trends in the historical status of children that have seemingly co-existed, in one form or another, over this period.
1. The Dionysian child is constructed as “a wilful material force….impish and harbouring a potential evil”. In this view adult control is required to prevent children them falling victim to their essential “badness”.
2. The Apollonian child, on the other hand, is constructed as “angelic, innocent, untainted by the world it has recently entered. It has a natural goodness and a clarity of vision that must be encouraged, enabled, facilitated, not crushed or beaten into submission”. Under this view, the role of adults is to create the conditions under which children can develop their essential “goodness” – and this, in turn, co-incidentally or otherwise, involves exercising a high level of control over their behaviour…
While the types of social control exercised by adults over children clearly differ in terms of their nature and extent, the underlying principles that drive the need for control are broadly similar: children, for either their own protection or the protection of others, need to be watched and disciplined.
In this respect, the introduction of new technologies – from mobile phones to wearable devices involving surveillance software – impacts on individual behaviours, identities and relationships within family groups in ways that have important ramifications for concepts of children and childhood…