Kids nowadays are exposed to media resources more than ever across an increasingly wide range of platforms and technologies. We live in a time where our kids can now be termed as smartphone midgets. Instead of using traditional creativity tools such as colour pencils, paint brushes and crayons to put their unique ideas and thoughts on to paper, children nowadays are seen hooked to smartphones for hours at stretch. This rapid transition from the customary pen and paper creativity to smart applications on cell phones has created both exciting new opportunities and pitfalls and presents a host of new challenges for parents and kids alike.
What children are exposed to has a profound impact on their learning, social development and behaviour. There is no doubt in the fact that children who have an access to media learning are smarter, pick things more effortlessly and become multilingual right from the early years. They are becoming more rational and calculating – a positive trait in today’s competitive and fast-paced era. Children of today are much more, or rather too informed, have prompt answers ready for any question and are not too shy in sharing what they think is the ultimate information. Learning has certainly become more enjoyable and less monotonous through visuals aids and music. For example, children do not really have to undergo hours of writing on practice notebooks to learn writing the alphabet. A fw swipes of the finger is all it takes for a kid these days to learn to write a letter. Learning has become more independent, as a majority of work is done on the screen held close.
While there are some of the numerous benefits, screen addiction has its drawbacks as well. Children addicted to smartphones often struggle owing to a lack of physical energy and mobility and obesity and inactivity. They also miss out on important lessons social interactions and exploration out into the open offers a young mind. Children as young as five have turned into couch potatoes. With a gadget in one hand and a pack of processed food in the other, children often remained glued to the screens often until sleep or low battery of the device gets the better of them.
Another problem screen addiction is giving rise to is the limited, or rather inability of children to imagine and think creatively on their own. As most information is fed to them through interactive apps and programmes, children somewhat miss out on the beauty of learning via observation, exploration and questioning. Staying indoors deprives them of chance of honing their abilities beyond vision and thumb swipes. For example, a kid of today will readily tell you that flowers stalks have thorns on them. But whether the child has actually experienced the prick and pain – and the resultant lesson of caution – from a thorn is anybody’s guess. Kids glued to screens are beginning to experience worsening eyesight, headaches and mental exhaustion at ages that kids of the past did not know these things existed.
Parents are increasingly becoming concerned by these medical and physical shortcoming in many children, but perhaps some parents have no one but themselves to blame for the state of their child. Parents at first found a smartphone to be a trusted confidant, a sure-fire way to appease a screaming baby, an apt distraction that kept the child busy while the father finished his favourite movie or the mother engaged in a lengthy phone conversation with a family member or friend. Smartphones became nannies that did not need food, looking after or care, just charging. And so the children have grown up, much fond and dependent on what was fed to them. Smartphone is the new staple.
Asking an addicted child to put down a smartphone just for a while is a battle in itself. Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, author of ‘Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids’, claims, “I have worked with hundreds of heroin addicts and crystal meths addicts and what I can say is that it is easier to treat a heroin addict than a kid who is a screen addict”.
Smart devices are a fact of life and not going away anywhere. One cannot expect people to stop using them, as most live their lives through them. But it’s imperative that their usage is kept in check and children are kept away from this ‘electronic drug’ for as long as possible. Offer them books, read to them and with them; answer their questions and help them imagine a world of their own. Books are expensive, true, but truer still is the fact that old ones are really cheap and buyers are on the decline.
Parents should also get out of their comfort zones and engage themselves in physical activities along with children. Run about in parks, kick the ball around, watch birds, chase after ducks, reflect on nature, wash the little tricycle with him or her, visit the zoo; make the child break a sweat for once. A few bruises gathered while being mischievous at the park will teach children more about life than a phone ever can.
Excess of everything is bad. But smartphones have become an excess that has taken over our lives and that of our children without many realising that. It is time to make amends. It is time to return children their childhood.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views and policy of The Academia Magazine .