Unplug your kids

Published November 17, 2013

“My sons (Afnan, age nine and Hassan, age seven) are truly the children of the technology age. They prefer to play action games in front of 46-inch screen with their 3-D glasses on the eyes and controllers in their hands. Their physical activity is restricted to jumping, turning and dancing as the series of action takes place on the screen,” Wajiha, a mother of two, says.

She may not like it but she confesses that she can’t complain about it. “It is just an add-on to our own addiction.” She laments that they are being “distanced from the boons of the simple life like connecting with one another on the most basic, human level — unlike how we were encouraged to go outside to play or visit the park, and develop a closeness to nature by spending time with flowers, birds and butterflies.”

The discussion at a meeting of a group of parents had turned towards the younger generation’s obsession with technology. The technology has brought about such changes that everything is just a click away — from curriculum to health care, to even pornography and extreme violence. There are no boundaries in the virtual world.

Many view this fascination with technology as a way forward to increase efficiency and better connectivity. But we should not ignore the other side of the story that can have a far reaching impact on the health and behaviour of the persistent users — the children.

“My two-year-old daughter does not open her mouth to eat unless she has hickory dickory dock playing on the I-pad,” Aimen, another young mother, added. “I bought the I-pad for my four-year-old son to make learning fun for him.”

She is amazed how the little hands operate the gadget with the precision that even her own fingers have not mastered. “I wish my daughter learns to use technology in ways I never have but not at the cost of disconnecting with the ‘real’ world,” she says.

“I always stress on the need to read books, but never thought that Kindle and I-pads will take away the pleasure associated with the traditional way of reading. After all, there is something about turning the crisp pages and the smell of paper,” another worried mom said. “It is unnerving to see my teenage daughters’ eyes locked on the screens for hours.” But getting the kids to switch off isn’t easy either. We are immersed in this world of screens and touchpads, and it is increasingly isolating us from the human interactions we need to grow and mature as people. It is this person-to-person contact that helps us develop empathy for other people, and gives us the humility to accept our failures and keep struggling. Those born on the brink of the technological revolution have experienced these contacts, but our children are increasingly isolated.

“If you try to pressurise them, tears come to their eyes as if they are being victimised. They say that they feel humiliated in front of their friends as everyone in the school owns one such device or another,” she explains. “Technology is useful when it is put to the right purpose and not just used as a status symbol or a toy to show off.” Unfortunately, it seems many parents don’t share this view.

She is shocked to see her daughters’ friends carrying smartphones to school. “I hope the parents know what they are doing with their kids’ future.”

By making friends with these devices and not interacting with people, the children do not get the opportunity to engage in the unceasing rush of experiences that would make them morally, physically and psychologically sound individuals. No one is advocating a complete break from technology; that would be short-sighted and regressive. What we need instead is to balance our lives and those of our children, to understand that the virtual world is far less important than the one that waits outside your door.

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