Smart parenting is about gate-keeping too: Saving children from being preyed upon by communication gadgets
By Haroon Reshi
The devices with the Internet have become key drivers of social evolution in every part of the world. They are simply unavoidable because of their evolutionary and advantageous role in our day-to-day lives. These gadgets have eased our lives in many ways; they provide us — to the people of all age groups — better communication means, ease of mobility, better learning techniques, and so on.
Experts, however, advise caution in terms of excessive usage of these gadgets by children. First, because they say, all types of devices such as phones, iPods, tablets, etc., generate radiations that pose a greater risk for bodily damage to human beings, particularly children. Second, many children are becoming addicted to the use of gadgets. They, most of the time, are watching videos, playing games, or scrolling through social media, which causes fatigue and restlessness, and even mental ailments. Third, since the obscene content is just a click away on the wireless devices, in some cases adolescents have been seen falling prey to pornographic websites, causing moral degradation to these youngsters.
Given both pros and cons of the technology-laden devices, experts suggest that children must be taught ‘smart use’ of these gadgets. To have various viewpoints and grasp more knowledge about the disadvantages of excessive use of devices by the children, KASHMIR IMAGES spoke to several experts.
Here are the excerpts:
Paediatrician, Former Head of the Department of Paediatrics & Neonatology SKIMS
Excessive use of phones, laptops, and other gadgets by children draws an adverse effect on their health. I see children with ailments like obesity, back pain, neck pain, and so on and so forth, every day. And then I find that one of the main causes of these illnesses is overuse of the electronic gadgets. For example, obesity in children is rising in Kashmir because they spent most of their time watching videos and playing games on mobile phones, which eventually causes problems like fatty liver and thyroid dysfunctions to these children. Earlier, such ailments were unusual among the children.
In addition to these specific health issues, some more serious problems can occur to those who are overusing these gadgets because of the radiation coming from the electronic appliances. Though it is not documented but some experts believe that radiation coming from the screens cause serious health hazards. Even a research is being conducted these days to see if the radiation coming from the electronic devices could cause brain tumors to the user, who frequently remain exposed to these harmful radiations. Last year, ‘Washington Post’ published a research-based article saying that children should not be allowed to use smartphones and other devices for more than two hours a day.
Moreover, sometimes parents bring their kids to me with complaints like behavioral changes in them. I, recently, saw a teenage girl who had attempted suicide by cutting her wrist artery with a blade just because her parents had taken away her phone to stop her from overusing the gadget. Thank God the young girl survived, but it a glaring example of how our children are getting addicted to these devices. Even some of these kids lose on the parental affection because they become habitual of living in the virtual world.
Even though the phones and Internet have their advantages as well, yet as a doctor I would suggest that parents must ensure their kids are not overusing these things. Also, parents should encourage their children to play outdoor games rather the virtual games on these devices.
Consultant Ophthalmologist and Eye Specialist
The overuse of electronic gadgets is causing short-sightedness known as myopia, in young children. Since the online education system has been introduced for the past more than a year due to the pandemic, most children are bound to use electronic devices and their eyes have been becoming a target to the radiations and various kinds of light emitting from the screens. One of them is blue light that is most harmful to the eyes because it directly affects the retina of the eyes.
Twenty-five percent of the children brought for eye checkups to our hospital (one of the eye hospitals in the city) during the past year, needed spectacles.
We suggest that parents ensure their children are not sitting in front of the screens of the devices for more than half-an-hour at a stretch. That means after every half-an-hour children must leave the devices aside for a while so that the pressure on their eyes is eased. Also, parents must provide their children with spectacles with blue-cut lenses to wear while they are in front of the screens. Also, children must play outside, so that they will be able to see the things frequently, which are far away. Lastly, I would strictly suggest, do not handover the phone to the toddlers. Even children up to 6 years of age should not be allowed to use phones.
Psychiatrist & Head of Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (IMHANS), Kashmir
Children affected by excessive use of mobile phones and other electronic gadgets are brought to the Child Guidance and Wellbeing Center-IMHANS, on a daily basis. These kids are mostly caught up with psychiatric ailments such as depression, anxiety disorder, and phobic disorder, and so on.
Such cases have been coming up, particularly for the past couple of years. It is observed that the usage of mobile phones and Internet by the children in the Valley became excessive due to lockdowns and the closure of schools for a long time during the past two years. It is now very obvious that children are spending more time on mobile phones, laptops, desktops and other gadgets at home that eventually impact their overall health, including their mental health. Some of them have become so addicted to these gadgets that if their parents try to stop them from overusing these things, they get irritated. Behaviors like irritation and sleep deprivation of the kids, in this case, are an indication that they have become addicted to gadgets and the Internet.
This addiction is not something that can be ignored. Studies have suggested that addiction to the Internet and smartphones stimulates the reward pathway in the brain similarly the way drugs do. It is also proven that if an addicted user is forcefully stopped from using smartphone and the Internet he or she starts showing the same withdrawal symptoms that a drug addict does after he or she is restricted from substance use.
Children are more vulnerable to addiction to the Internet and gadgets because they have their view of the world as concrete thinkers. That means, unlike elders, children have less ability to differentiate between the virtual and the actual world. They think and believe that whatever they see on phones is absolutely real. For example, it was observed in various parts of the world that mobile games such as PUBG and Blue Vale drew the worst impact on the mental health of children who were addicted to these games. Even some of them ended up with suicide. This is obvious evidence that the virtual world has immense power of affecting the human mind, particularly the mind of children.
Another impact of the virtual world is that it renders a child unable to face real-life challenges. Even some of these kids may be more vulnerable to drug abuse in the later stages of their lives.
Also, it has been noticed that some adolescents, whose parents fail to keep an eye on them, fall prey to easily available pornography on the phones. Watching pornography at such a young age could also impact the mental health of a child.
Since, unlike in the past, we have developed a nuclear family system in our society; children get enough opportunities to use the phone the way they like to. In this situation, children using the Internet are more vulnerable to the disadvantages of this technology.
We must understand that a human being is a social animal and, therefore, it is important that our children are more familiar with society rather than the virtual world. That said, let me clarify that it is absolutely ok if a child uses gadgets for educational purposes for a limited time daily. However, the parents and other caregivers must ensure that they are not overusing or misusing these gadgets.
Member Child Welfare Committees (CWC) Srinagar
Social Welfare, Department, J&K
Cases regarding cyber bullying, cyber stalking, online scams, extortions, hacking, and so on, come into the light every now and then. Such cases are neither reported nor brought to light. All these things are new to our society and that is why we always suggest to parents that children must be kept under surveillance when they are using gadgets. Parents also need to learn how to control their children’s phones using parental software in these devices. They can also seek help from experts to learn how to ensure the safety of their children while they are using gadgets.
Last year, we had a training workshop on this issue in Srinagar with the collaboration of UNICEF, in which experts made startling revelations about the possibilities of the misuse of phones by children. Since then we have seen many cases where we found children, particularly adolescents are becoming addicted to the phones and Internet to the extent that they feel they will not be able to live without these things. For example, a teenage girl who was under our treatment told us that she could leave her parents but not her phone. Similarly, a boy from a broken family, who was living in our protection, begged us to provide him a mobile phone. These youngsters feel helpless without a phone.
Child Rights Lawyer
Earlier, in joint families, there used to be several caregivers to a child. However, in the present-day nuclear family system, technology has taken over human space. Online mode of education has enhanced children’s dependence on gadgets further. Worst, most parents have no idea whether their children are aptly using these devices or misusing them. Since I work closely with the psychologists, they, on the basis of their first-hand information, confirm that many children in Kashmir are becoming addicted to obscene content on phones and other gadgets.
In this scenario, parents need to be vigilant. The government, however, cannot shy away from its responsibilities in this matter. It should put a blanket ban on porn websites to ensure children do not fall prey to pornography, which is presently just a click away on their phones.
Unfortunately, every time when a petition demanding a ban on porn websites is presented in any court, the government comes up with a long list of websites that have been banned. Banning just a few hundreds of thousands of porn websites is not a solution. We need a complete ban on obscene content because unlike past most children use phones nowadays. An obscene content cannot be kept easily available to these vulnerable minds.
Moreover, we need to incorporate sex education into the curriculum of grown-up children to teach them do’s and don’ts on this subject of human nature. Also, we must develop a culture of conversation at our institutions, and in our families. Parents must talk to their children to make them understand the disadvantage of misusing or excessive use of gadgets.
Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Kashmir
Nobody can deny the fact that devices such as smartphones, laptops, and desktops linked with Internet are of utmost importance and full of advantages for the children. However, if not used properly and under certain regulations, the very gadgets can prove hazardous for these vulnerable minds — the children. We, frequently, see the instances of excessive use or the misuse of these gadgets by children and its irreparable damage to their health and overall personality.
This dilemma of merits and demerits of the gadgets demand us to ensure our children use these devices smartly. Stopping them from using phones and other devices is neither advantageous nor advisable. Firstly, the gadgets are advantageous to the extent that avoiding them will render our children ignorant about modern-day life. Secondly, we need to consider the fact that children have fewer avenues of entertainment available in Kashmir. And the pandemic has further impacted their routine life and schooling.
Therefore, snatching gadgets from them is not advisable. However, parents need to be tactful enough to prevent misuse or overuse of gadgets by the children. For example, they should ensure their children take part in several kinds of practical activities such as drawing, painting, reading, cycling, gardening, and so on. This will also help them to make children understand that there is life beyond mobile phones.
Also, in these vulnerable times, parents must ensure that they spend some quality time with their children and keep talking with them on topics such as ethics, morality, and our religious teachings and cultural values, and so on and so forth. Unfortunately, some parents are themselves addicted to gadgets to the extent that they are unable to preach in front of the children. Therefore, they must change themselves first for the well-being of their kids.
Assistant Professor (Sociology),
Government Degree College, Baramulla
We, as human beings were supposed to use technology and gadgets to our benefit, but, instead we have become slaves to these things. Worst, the children are becoming more vulnerable to this slavery. Most of them like to be with the virtual world more than the real world. This new phenomenon has its repercussions. In the long run, addiction to technology and gadgets will lead our children to alienation from self, family, society, and every other thing that is part of the real world. Karl Marx has well described this condition in his theory of alienation. Such kind of alienation sometimes ends up with Fatalistic suicide.
To understand the new emerging situation in terms of excessive use of technology and gadgets and its repercussions, take a look at a child who has become addicted to these things. You will find her/him most of the time looking at and concentrated on the screen of the phone. In many cases, we can find gaps emerging between a child and his parents and other close relatives. That means they are becoming more and more disconnected from the real world. Even there are cases where some children are losing their motor skills. I recently saw a five-year-old child, who faced an orthopaedic problem after his teacher had made him do 10 sit-ups as punishment for not doing homework. When I dug deeper into the matter I came to know that the child was weak because of the lack of exertion. In another example, I found girl students of our college were not able to run more than a few hundred meters when we had organized a two-kilometer race for the female students recently.
Earlier, children used to play outdoor games and they were always under the surveillance of their parents and teachers. But now the very fabric of our society has changed. Most of our children are becoming dependent on devices for everything. I feel sad for the toddlers who are handed over phones by their parents to ensure they will not ‘disturb’ them. Why should a child not become addicted to a phone when she/he starts watching stuff on it from an early age? I fear these kids, when grown up, will not be able to face real-life challenges.
To conclude, I would say yet it is not too late. The damage can be reduced if the parents, teachers and other caregivers take responsibility to ensure children are not overusing the technology and the gadgets.