Twenty Technologies That Forever Changed Childhood

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Twenty Technologies That Forever Changed Childhood

Consider this: At the turn of the millennium, what technology issue worried us? Y2K. Our kids listened to CDs on portable players. Laptops and lap dogs weighed about the same. If you wanted to watch a TV show after it aired, you had to program a VCR. AOL ruled email, which most of us accessed through dial-up. Kids surfed the ocean, not the Web; they played games on Game Boys and used their phones to talk, not text; and social networking happened at the mall. 

The first decade of the twenty-first century has been packed with innovations and entertainment that have forever changed childhood—and parenting. Some of these have been fabulous. Others? Not so great. But all have revolutionized how our kids communicate, create, learn, and play.

Here, in no particular order, are the best and worst of the last decade—the stuff that we at Common Sense Media feel has truly rocked our kids’ world. 

Ten Best of the Decade

1. Google
Okay, technically, Google started in the ’90s. But mass use didn’t begin until the 2000s. Now, just about every child knows how to find just about anything by Googling. It’s opened the world to our children—sometimes bringing in too much, too soon—and parents found out it was up to them to teach their kids to surf safely and responsibly. 

2. Harry Potter
Four hundred million books. That’s 400,000,000 readers. Most of them kids. Reading isn’t dead, even if this is all PK (pre-Kindle). (FYI, those statistics came from Google, which returned results 1–10 of about 659,000,000 in 0.20 seconds.) 

3. Facebook
More people exist on this social network than live in the United States. MySpace kicked off this world of self-expression and communication, causing parents to scramble as they tried to get their kids to understand the importance of self-reflecting before self-revealing. Kids learned the hard way that anything they posted could be copied, pasted, and shared, making cyberbullying one of the worst inventions of the decade. (Honorable mention here goes to Club Penguin, where little kids hang out online with their penguin avatar friends … until they get old enough to lie about their ages and start Facebook pages of their own.)

4. Wii
PlayStation 2 came out in 2000, which revolutionized gaming. Xbox followed halfway through the decade, bringing with it an explosion of online gaming (Halo, anyone?). PlayStation 3 offered gold-standard gaming and more. But Wii brought video games back into the family fold, offering age-appropriate play for kids 5–95. And its revolutionary motion sensor got families off the couch and moving!

5. YouTube
How to tune a guitar? Helpful. Cat videos? Hysterical. 421,000 search results for videos on girl fights? Not so funny. Fifteen seconds of fame comes home to every kid. And kids 3–11 now stream more video than their parents.  

6. American Idol
Not a tech innovation. Not even the beginning of reality TV. But certainly the show that grabbed millions and millions of kids—and held them. And held them. And held them.

7. Wikipedia
Homework will never be the same. But kids have to learn that not everything they read is true.

8. Cell Phones
These pocket pals brought about texting, sexting, and the horrendously dangerous texting while driving. Hand your teens iPhones? They’ll make videos and upload them to YouTube and their Facebook pages (though the No. 1 use for phones remains … checking the time). Parents: Don’t text your kids in class. (We know you do.)

9. TiVo
R.I.P Family Hour. Time-shifting means that kids can watch age-appropriate TV at any hour. Families zipped past those awful erectile dysfunction ads. Still, Digital Video Recording (DVR) technology may only be the warm-up act for online streamers like Hulu.

10. iTunes
Napster (yes, we know, very 1999) and Limewire may have introduced teens to the breakthrough of downloading music (very illegally) on their computers. But Apple revolutionized the music and video world with iTunes and its necessary companions, iPods and iPhones. iTunes put the control of music in the hands and earbuds of the world. But the biggest breakthrough arrived as the decade came to a close … iPhone apps. More than 1 billion served and counting.

Ten Worst of the Decade

1. Grand Theft Auto
These well-made but ultra-violent games changed the course of gaming. Did our kids really need to have guns put in their hands like this? And why don’t parents get that M means Mature?

2. Digital Cheating
Limewire and Napster started it: Anonymity, ease, and lack of clear rules on right and wrong have made illegal downloading, plagiarizing, or texting answers to friends so “normal” that kids don’t realize that digital cheating is still cheating—and not okay.

3. Erectile Dysfunction Ads
No parent needs to discuss four-hour erections with any child, end of story. And certainly not after the third inning on a Saturday.

4. The Bathroom Wall
The worst of anonymous cyberbullying found a home on this Facebook app—cruel and ever so public. When we gave our kids a forum, did we give them our rules?

5. Gossip Girl
Gossip Girl books which spawned the Gossip Girl TV series, which set the expectation for kids who can’t yet drive that a ménage a trois is a “must-have” college experience.

6. Superbad
Hilarious? Absolutely! R rated? You bet. But ratings don’t stop kids from seeing age-inappropriate movies on DVD. And McLovin and his fake ID became a role model to teens for how “funny” it is to get wasted on alcohol in a nation where teen drinking is at historic highs.

7. World of Warcraft
Built so that kids have to spend enormous amounts of time to progress, WOW did more for computer addiction than anything else.

8. Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and the Celebutantes
Sounds like a band, right? Sure—if you mean a band of role models for our kids that had parents scrambling to pull out teachable moments as former screen, TV, and music idols crashed and burned.

9. Webkinz
Age appropriate, but a parental pain because it’s all about buy buy buy, making it the perfect way to associate consumerism with virtual worlds. There are better worlds out there.

10. Texting While Driving
Half of teens say they take calls while driving, which means texting can’t be far behind. We have to teach kids to look at the road … unless they want to look at their lives flashing before their eyes.

Originally published on CommonSenseMedia