It is a very common sight these days to see teenagers in possession of hand-held gadgets texting away at lightning speed. Or having their ears plugged with earphones listening to music incessantly. Or even replying, liking, commenting on social media sites fervently. In one of our assemblies held at Bethany High School, we realized that many of our students are using such gadgets and are online for a major part of their day leading almost virtual lives. Parents also expressed concerns about how to provide, control and ensure mindful and meaningful use technology while bringing up our little “digital natives”.
So the Bethany High School decided to address these issues and empower students and parents with strategies to help them deal effectively with this festering issue. Sessions were thus held with students across all age groups i.e. from 3-18 year old and their parents. These sessions received an overwhelming response from both parties and the interactive sessions that followed these sessions put things in perspective for all of us. I was privileged to be a part of this sensitization drive initiated and conducted by Bethany High School. This was done in the hope of creating awareness about the toxic and addictive effects of the digital age that stare us in our face and we refuse to accept it. Is this ignorance? Is it denial? Several answers and many more questions raised during a series of these sessions across various departments of the institution and cross-section of parents of toddlers to teenagers point to the latter! It is denial! to a great extent, digital natives cannot think of a world without it. we, the digital immigrants, however, have lived the pre-digital era and yet fail to recognize the overuse, misuse or abuse of gadgets & technology. Such is the magnetic pull that we do not want to forego the “perceived comfort and safety” that our gadgets offer to us or so we think.
Time to introspect:
- Are we using/overusing/ misusing/abusing technology?
- Do we “need” it as much as we “use” it?
- Are the reasons we give real/perceived?
- Are we connected virtually/emotionally?
- Are we losing our decision-making & survival skills due to being gadget dependent?
As a psychologist, my job is to question human behavior and understand why people behave the way they do. How can lack of empathy be explained? Is the constant and easy exposure to violence through games and internet responsible? Is the virtual violent content numbing our senses and making us incapable of “feeling” which is the core of human existence?
According to research, brains become “rewired” due to being virtually online often exposing our brains to shocking and sensational images and videos. Neural circuits may become desensitized due to this exposure and little or no training on empathic skills or life skills.
Many researchers have shown that empathy is negatively impacted by technology use, especially social media use.. Social media has taken social comparison and certification to an all new, never-before-seen level among youngsters today, the most vulnerable of which are our teenagers or “Screenagers” as they are popularly called these days. Self-obsessed individuals are seen taking selfies where ever they go. They are seen clicking pictures of all their activities as well as their food. The check-ins and “feeling” tabs on popular social media sites are robbing our skill to express ourselves in self-devised words. Everything is provided from which we only have to choose. Over-reliance on these prompts for self-expression makes it difficult for us to express ourselves otherwise. Also, a large population is doing this under peer pressure or just because “everyone does it”. It is something that becomes mechanical or compulsion to show off. This leads to social anxiety or depression among youngsters. Statistics reveal the alarming rate at which youngsters are seeking professional help to deal with issues pertaining to gadget addiction, social media cravings, social anxiety or depression. With the result, there has been noted a remarkable rise in aggression among the said population.
Another classic case of losing some of our survival skills is the reliance on GPS while finding an address. Asking for directions, understanding those instructions, giving such directions, retaining them in the memory, approaching a stranger in a strange land, often involving an unfamiliar language are all extinct skills. Losing data, battery or network in such a situation triggers panic. Just a little food for thought, guys!!
Howsoever, the good news is it’s reversible. Let’s see what we can do as adults in our households to promote gadget/techno-hygiene and protect our children –
- Have set boundaries. Have a structure. Set screen-time.
- Allow no technology or gadget use behind locked doors.
- Educate and talk to your children about responsible use of gadgets/technology/social media
- Do not give your child his/her OWN gadget
- Refer to the screen-time allowed for different age groups by pediatricians and set accordingly
- Be role models
- Have gadget-free family times
- Encourage family outings/ drives to be gadget free
- Have meaningful conversations with your children (easier said than done especially in case of teenagers)
- You are the provider so you get to lay down the rules. (sorry kids!)
- Be the parent. NOT a friend.
- Say NO when you must. Often, that is.
- Do not gratify immediately. Make them wait. Make them earn
- Stay connected. Emotionally.
- Be available. Physically.
Trust me, it is possible. It is difficult but possible. Going by the experience of working extensively with teenagers for quite some time now, I can recognize it is difficult but not impossible. For the brave parents that is!
It is extremely ironic that I’m talking about gadgets and technology and how they affect and intrude and pervade our lives, bodies and minds! Yet, I’m using it to reach out to you all! I have used it to research. And you too are using it as you read this!
Yes, we cannot do away with it! But we have a choice to make… and empower the youngsters to make the choice! Technology is all-pervading and extremely useful if used mindfully. Now whether we use, over-use, misuse, abuse is a CHOICE we have to make! For gadgets do not come with “STATUTORY WARNING: A MENTAL HEALTH HAZARD!”