Sunday, 27 May 2012


My grandfather was a wanderer and the society of his time condoned and indeed encouraged it. As one of five boys, to stay at home was an unlikely situation. They were relatively poor railway people in southern UK. The duration of being a teen was as short as possible: unlike today where teenagers linger for years and being a teenager can last more than a decade! My ancestors could not afford to have a dependent young adult hanging on their coat tail. At the opportunity to become a £5 pom, he did, travelling to Australia in 1909 and working in Cranbourne as a farm labourer. Subsequently he joined the AIF in 1915 and served in Ypres area, and was one of the lucky few to survive. Well, just. He was severely wounded and suffered PTS for the rest of his life.
My father, too, was a teen traveller: growing up in depression Brunswick, he described to me hi travels by bike on Sundays as far as his Aunty Agatha in the Gully (Ferntree Gully) and up to Craigieburn to go rabbiting. Then in my teen years in the 1970s, I rode my bike everywhere, to and from school, my paper round in the morning and afternoon. It seemed the norm to allow kids to traverse the country and maybe world relatively unescorted in those far off days. It seemed a safer place, didn’t it. The reality is that there is no real evidence to suggest the world is less safe today, but is that because our kids do not wander and traverse the suburbs and world and hence less exposed? Or do they wander and are they exposed?

There is a perception today that the world is less safe and we need to convey our children everywhere and accompany them, chaperone them to ensure their apparent safety. Their days are programmed and planned to the last minute detail. Many contemporary authorities, American author Richard Louv being one, suggest that managed life and the subsequent disconnect from the natural world, the real world, is doing our kids real harm. It is manifest in the rise in the likes of ADD and other learning-related conditions. It is currently described rather charmingly as Nature deficit Disorder, or NDD.
Children and boys in particular are wired to wander, take risks and in past times this is how they made their social connections and tested their mettle in the world. Moreover, if we are to create responsible adults, we need to create responsibilities for our teenagers to practice on.  You might see where this is going. Today, with the physical limitations placed on our kids by perceptions of the need to keep them safe and escorted, chaperoned and programmed, they have found the ideal place to wander and socialise: social media. It is beyond the apparent control of parents and safe in the cloister of their room or smart-phone.  And, for the most part it is no bad thing. well, actually it is nearly the only this they are "free" to do!

Some might argue that contemporary social media is merely a tool for the commodification of acquaintances. To some extent this is true. It is not unusual for our students to admit they have 600 or more FB friends at year nine. Initially, this seems ludicrous to those of us from a previous century! My 100 or so friends is the source of much ridicule. But consider that in our adult world of wanderings, my contacts list or indeed my dear mums old ratty “Teledex” might have listed several hundred friends, family or acquaintances. We would have a hierarchy of contacts in there, from close family and friends to those people who live rounds about the small suburb or town of our influence. We would not necessarily know personally everyone in that list, or be close to the people on the periphery, but we could contact them if required or have the number of that person who lives in that house at the way end of town.
The same is true of our current generation of kids and their social network, dictated by the realm of their cyber wandering. They too have a hierarchy of FB friends in their social media connections. They bump into various people often, are familiar with some and can recognise most. They do not necessarily have deep meaningful conversations with every one of the 600 friends, just as I would not with every one of the several hundred real world people I might connect with in my town or region. But I would say “hi” or “hello” to most and our kids do, too, within the wall or message section of their social media.
The way they meet and greet is also in a subcultural-language that is not that different to the conventions we older folk adopt. The banal “good morning how are you” we trot out to most people is not really seeking deep insight into the wellbeing of the other person. It is a convention. Kids use their own conventions to meet and greet. The sophistication of what we call code-switching to adapt to different social settings and interaction is the job of us as educators to teach. Many adults do not fully understand this, and most kids do it pretty well. The point is the nature of conversations and their level of sophistication in their place of wandering mimics that of adults in ours. We adults even abbreviate in our own way, too. Thanks Luv. LOL!

So our kids today are merely wandering their contemporary world much as our forefathers and mothers did, collecting and accumulating acquaintances along the way and managing a contemporary “Teledex”! The conversations and chats along the way are sometimes a useful and meaningful, sometimes as banal and trite, as those of adults in the passage of their physical wanderings. The real danger I see in the limitation we place on kid’s unfetted meanderings and wandering is not the predatory potential of cyber stalkers but that created form the disconnection from the real world. That disconnection will make it harder for kids in future to have a real and personal connection with the natural world and value it and make good decisions for it as custodians and stewards, the future leaders.

The reality is that contemporary kids wander the world as much if not more than my grandfather did and accumulate friends and are exposed to risks in a similar way: they may be even safer. Hopefully they won’t be called to the fields of Ypres for anything other than to pay homage to their fallen ancestors. So, when are we going to give them real responsibilities?

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