A GIRL, 16, in Sarawak commits suicide after a poll on her Instagram showed that her “friends” were in favour of it.
When we read about such shocking news, we feel like the world has gone mad. And we are helpless, knowing that we can’t turn back time. Technology is here to stay.
Kids and technology seem to be the No. 1 point of contention for parents.
Experts debate the pros and cons of screen time, accessories and applications. While some encourage 3 year olds with mobile phones, others compare the device to cocaine.
At first glance, moderation seems to be the magic word. Except, nobody seems to agree on what moderation looks like.
By default, children oppose moderation. Ice cream and sweets in moderation sounds just as unappealing as “a little bit of screen time”, whatever that might be.
Our parents grew up playing with, and collecting, as many toy soldiers and fake guns that they could get their hands on. In hindsight, this might seem questionable, but then again, youngsters in ancient Greece played with inflated pig bladders. Not exactly a trend we want to resuscitate either.
Then there were marbles. The more the better. School children used to exchange their lunch bags for a specimen of rare beauty or colour.
They were soon followed by never-ending releases of new Barbie dolls, each with a special feature or hairstyle, or convertible car, the gifting of which would make or break a little girl’s birthday party.
Remember Furby and the Tamagotchi craze? The Pokémon wars? The Magic cards collections?
Ever since children have become more than little adults that can be exploited as a cheap labour force, parents have struggled with instilling a concept of moderation in their young ones.
Smart technology with access to the Internet and social media are seen as one of the biggest threats to children’s development and safety.
Objectors are discussing real concerns of overuse and dependency. A Kaiser Family Foundation study shows that children now spend more than half of their daily time staring at a screen.
That leaves little time for tactile stimulation gained by hugging and rough playing as well as sensory input like movement, human connection and exposure to nature.
As a result, many pre- and primary school children lack coordination, motor skills and self-regulation abilities.
We all know such a kid. One who can play Angry Birds on a tablet like nobody’s business, but is unable to hold a fork, tie his shoelaces or communicate in a string of three coherent sentences.
On the other side of the debate, proponents of technology for children argue that young minds get to express their creativity when good old pen and paper are replaced by a much more effective 3D animation.
They reason that kids who socialise with others through video game live chats and social media get to interact with youngsters from different backgrounds and cultures.
They claim that the freedom of expression granted by technology gives them independence and empowerment.
These are all valid points, too.
However, this brings us back to the subject of moderation. A child that slouches in a comfy chair playing a game on his phone needs to also run and play hide and seek in a real forest or at least a backyard.
A boy who sharpens his problem-solving skills playing a fast- paced video game in a so-called survival mode needs to hone these same skills in a kitchen trying to make a pancake.
And yes, a teenage girl that chooses “D” for Death in a friend’s Instagram poll needs to ask herself what she would answer if she stood face to face with the friend who is conducting the survey.
Smart technology is called virtual and remote for a reason. A new generation is growing up in a seemingly sanitised world, where nothing happens for real, where actions have no real consequences, until they do.
And once again, as parents, we have no one else to blame but ourselves. After a hard day’s work, on a rainy Sunday morning, or during a long road trip, we are all too ready to hand our smartphone or tablet to our 3 year old and trade a screen for peace and quiet.
The writer is a long-term expatriate, a restless traveller, an observer of the human condition and unapologetically insubordinate