Modern children resemble city traders on the brink of burn-out. Stoked on hard drugs (Ritalin) and with imperfectly formed moral codes, they stare blankly at video screens. Whether beating prostitutes to death with baseball bats (Grand Theft Auto) or murdering uncatalogued lifeforms by stamping on their heads (Super Mario Bros) they careen through a high-speed existence with little care for politics or history.
They think nothing of drinking a four-pack of Redbull and lying about happy-slapping strangers to their £200-an-hour psychotherapist. They cannot adjust to the ever accelerating pace of modern life, where the branded totems of their demographic (Nike, Sony, Apple) are worn like tribal markings. The corporate endorsement of their t-shirts can be the critical bridge to social acceptance in the eyes of their peers.
So, is modern life too fast for the supple human mind? Does the young human brain have an upper limit for information intake? Do children have a rev counter we're red-lining by exposing them to so much input? An open letter published today in The Daily Telegraph, from 110 teachers, psychologists, children's authors (including Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials) and experts, says yes. It calls on the government to act to prevent the "death of childhood". The letter argues that real play has given way to hours spent staring at the television screen.
Accusing the entertainment and consumer electronics industry of complicity, the letter says that children need "real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment), first-hand experience of the world they live in". The letter also says that "children's brains are still developing, they cannot adjust... to the effects of ever more rapid technological and cultural change".
"They are pushed by market forces to act and dress like mini-adults and exposed via the electronic media to material which would have been considered unsuitable for children even in the very recent past."
Another signatory, author Jacqueline Wilson, told The Daily Telegraph, "I don't think children use their imaginations any more."
It's easy to see why parents, assaulted by the constant barrage of news items on paedophile attacks, terrorism and murder, encourage their children's seclusion in the hermetically sealed confines of a softly carpeted room with a plasma TV and Xbox 360.
Modern life has put children in first gear and slammed its foot to the floor. Will their pliant minds adapt to this unprecedented level of exposure to information and experience, or are rising incidents of childhood depression the first signs of a playground apocalypse? Let us know what you think by adding a comment below. -Chris Stevens