CHILDREN AND SMART PHONES: A Dangerous Friendship

Every parent wishes the best for their children. The question then is, does giving a child everything they ask for show how much we love them? Shouldn’t there be some kind of moderation—a time when we say no and explain why the timing is not right or why a certain thing might be harmful or even inappropriate for them?

We love our gadgets. All this technology is helping us communicate easily, cheaply, fast with our loved ones and presents new and exciting ways to learn, plus it opens the world to us without much travel. Children have more opportunities to learn new things from a smart phone or tablet. However, without proper guidance and adult support, the same technology poses a huge risk and danger to children. In the end, this unfortunate consequence makes parents the centre of blame. Let’s look at some negative effects.

The Effect On Eye Sight

So many children are suffering from some kind of eye defect and risking near or permanent blindness due to the long-term and constant exposure to light from these gadgets. Some parents will give their smart phone to a child explaining that it will help keep the little one distracted for some good time. But this unreasonable excuse for some kind of convenience for the adult starts to affect the quality of eye sight the child has. The effects are not usually immediate, which makes it even worse that by the time the parent realizes the damage done, it is a little too late.

Inactivity And Obesity

I remember a time when we could access Encarta on the home computer. We were going to learn quite a lot. It has been many years since and I would still choose to use Encarta today. It was fun. With the advancement in computer technology we can order for food online, buy a video game, have a long conversation with a friend without leaving our spot for an hour or more. Once again, this illusion of convenience creates a tendency to be inactive. Children are in a stage where they need all the energy they can get and be as active as their youthfulness can permit them to be. Their bodies are still developing and they need to have some form of exercise every now and then. It makes them more attentive, more focused, happier, more energized, healthier, and stronger. With the world facing a problem of obesity among young people and the resultant host of health disorders and diseases, not forgetting the potential of such a child being bullied for being overweight and leading to worse problems like teenage suicide, parents should find ways to create no-gadget hours during the day and fill them with more engaging activities like family outings, talking walks, helping around the house and more.

A Disconnect From Reality

Some very impressive young minds have creatively and passionately spoken against the apparent disconnect that comes from the illusion of connectedness that social media and other similar technology promise. YouTube is awash with poems, music videos, short films and other creative forms of expression that have been used to help people round the world wake up to the reality that the more they soak into their gadgets, the further away from society they become. Humans are created to be social beings. Smart gadgets excite children and with time they can easily have thousand of ‘friends’ at the tap of a button without needing to employ social skills. While this makes them feel they are part of some kind of ‘community’, it has been seen that such children tend to be moody, lonely and depressed over time. As parents we are to help our children become better adults when they grow up and unfortunately when something of this sort is left unattended then the same children grow up to suffer in the workplace, relationships, marriage and miss out on great opportunities for leadership and employment due to their lack of social or interpersonal skills.

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Communication Is Cut

Clicking an emoji in response to a text from a friend is not what communication is about. Yes, they may be understanding each other but we need to want to nurture the right communication skills both verbal and non-verbal so that we and our children can learn to have healthy and quality conversation and be able to confidently express themselves without lazily hiding behind technology. These gadgets will not always be there. Many young students are having trouble writing and speaking coherently even when they take an exam.  Children tend to act awkward especially around adults in formal situations because they have not learned a proper way to communicate. For some, this causes feelings and situations of embarrassment that could badly hurt a child’s self-esteem.

Low Self Esteem

As though eye defects, disconnectedness, and other risks weren’t more than enough, the constant technological improvements in these gadgets and the aggressive marketing efforts to persuade people into buying more phones than they need create an environment where children feel pressured to ask their parents to get them the latest phone just because their friends at school have better phones. Some children are not comfortable if their mom has a ‘cheaper’ phone and their classmates’ parents have more sophisticated phones. These children may respond with embarrassment and not want to be picked from school by their parents nor acknowledge their parents. Such unhealthy peer pressure to ‘fit in’ and look like everyone else with time damages the child’s self esteem and confidence. Does it get worse? Well, you can be sure they will carry this low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence into their teenage and adult lives. This further puts them at a risk of drug abuse and alcoholism as a form of ‘escape’ and ‘reassurance’.

Bullying

A friend’s child had been the target for bullies for quite a long time at her school and the teachers had not been of any help. One time, the little girl risked almost being killed when she was thrown into a trench at school and instead of trying to help or even realise their bullying had gone overboard, a student pulled out his smart phone so he could film the little frightened girl in the trench and post it on YouTube. Now these were primary students and the little girl’s crime was being mixed race. They say information is power but that only makes sense if the right information is in the right hands. These children had the knowledge to use smart phones, carried them to school and knew that you can easily record anything and publish it onto the internet. This could have been wonderful if they were working on a school project or something else constructive but not when it empowered them the wrong way to find harassment as a source of entertainment and use the technology as a platform to humiliate another human being. Now if these bullies were punished is another issue altogether and their parents may not have cared for their misbehavior. Unfortunately, it is usually not surprising when such children grow up into potential criminals, terrorists, ‘usual-suspects’, that we helped ‘nurture’ when we gave them excessive access to these gadgets without educating them on how best to use them and without moderation.

Pedophilia and Sexual Abuse

More than ever, children must be protected as compared to just giving them excess freedom to do whatever they want, talk to whoever they want, hang out with whoever they want, and go wherever they want. A smart phone for instance can be excellent in helping us communicate with our children when we are away from them or when they need some help in an emergency situation. However, at this stage in their lives they lack the maturity to know when and how to use them. These gadgets tend to present an open door for almost anyone to access the lives, minds, hearts and bodies of children with minimal or no ‘guard rails’. Shameless people will want the child’s phone number and they obviously will not have the best of intentions. The rampant cases of children being sexually abused or molested passively or physically round the globe is concerning. Children via skype, Facebook can be asked by people much older than them (pretending to be the same age) to take nude pictures of themselves and share them via their inboxes. Some end up being victims of stalking when they naively give away their private information to such unscrupulous people regardless of whether they are older or the same age. The unrestricted access to the internet also means these children can easily access pornography and other inappropriate content along with the harmful after-effects like addictions, rape and some are so unfortunate they get tricked by online friends and online boyfriends only to end up being victims of human trafficking and eventually sold into sex slavery as child prostitutes.

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Now, am I saying that children should not have access to these amazing gadgets, no? The benefits of computer technology are of immense value to children. The point then is that this form of technology needs to be consumed in moderation, there must be keen adult or parental guidance, the child must be properly educated not just about how to use the gadgets, but also when not to use them and how to stay safe, healthy and active.

 

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Email:  adeadasolutions@gmail.com

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