Digital addictions - a threat to childhood development

By Andile Tshuma | 24 Aug 2019 at 20:54hrs
HOW many times have you given your child your phone to escape those draining and exhausting tantrums? Do you know of any better way to soothe your child's screams and screeches other than giving them a gadget?  

If so then you are guilty, too. We may not realise it, but the majority of urban children have become digital addicts, just like their parents. It is not a crime to allow your child to indulge in these gadgets once in a while, especially if you also need that well deserved break as a parent or care giver.

You can have your 30 minutes or a few hours of peace as you try to let your hair down or take a quick bath, or make a meal, or just read a book, while your toddler is swiping away on the phone, or tablet or other device. You are a busy parent, and you are doing a very good job at parenting, it's not a walk in the park. Just do not allow a child to fall into addiction.

I spoke to a child behavioural specialist from a public hospital in Bulawayo and he said today's digital world is messing up a lot of kids' childhoods.

"Children must be children. They must go out and play. They should learn to make wire cars or play house and play with dolls. They must enjoy outdoor activities and come back with bruises and scratches that are evidence of play, exercise and all the experiences of growing up. That way they explore their world, discover new things and the development of their brain is well on track. Physical, mental and social growth and development is achieved," said the specialist, who cannot be identified for professional reasons.

The doctor said more and more children are having difficulties interacting and sharing space with others because they have become accustomed to living in isolation as the television or smartphone has become their best friend. With the very long power cuts that we have been experiencing lately in the country after Zesa introduced load shedding, a lot of children have been miserable.

Coming home to no television, no WiFi, a phone whose battery is very low and cannot be wasted on games as it has to double up as a flashlight when the darkness of the night comes.

These kids are not used to playing with other things and they cannot be creative. It is good, rather it is required for children to be tech savvy, but it is very dangerous for them to be tech dependent for their happiness.

But children do not just develop these habits, they take it from the parents. I know of some people who have been going from suburb to suburb just to find where there is power so that they can charge their gadgets and stay connected. So much trouble just to stay online.

I remember during the January protests, people stayed for three days without these social networks, well some discovered VPN but there was a time when there was a total shutdown and some people thought they would suffer mental break downs. But here we are. We are still alive. Children must be taught the right thing and children learn by observing what the adults do. Monkey see, monkey do is the way a child learns what and what not to do.

Take a lifestyle audit and see if your child is taking all the right lessons from you.  Can you outsmart your smart phone? The problem is not necessarily the phones or that we have become addicted to them, but our mindless usage of the device. Our phones have taken over much of the greater part of our lives.

Tapping away on our mobile devices every hour of our awake moments, even tapping away in the dead of the night after a trip to the loo, has become normal, but is it? We're increasingly relying on our phones to be personal assistants, providing directions, reminding us of birthdays, handling our banking needs, the list is endless. Smart devices are sometimes empowering.

They put a world of information at our fingertips.

They free people to work from home avoiding the hectic morning rush. That is a huge boon for parents seeking flexible work hours. Smart phones and tablets can also promote efficiency by allowing people to get things done in spare moments that would otherwise be wasted, such as while queuing for coffee.

They can even help slackers create the illusion that they are working around the clock, by programming their e-mail to be sent at 1AM. We may ask ourselves these questions, joke about it at times and even self-reflect it sometimes.

How we just can't do without our phones. However, as we begin to feel bad about being so attached to our gadgets, a notification of another message on Facebook or WhatsApp beeps and we again, for the umpteenth time of the day, get lost in our world of social networks.

Phones today have become omnipotent, omnipresent and omni-everything!

In Zimbabwe over one million people are said to be using smart phones and the numbers are ever escalating. Our phones are what we use everyday, for everything. Work, play, exercise, worship.

We have our Bibles, our worship songs, our friends, family, books, work mail, exercise applications, banking, and an assortment of many other things conveniently packaged in our phones. We can even do our shopping from the comfort of our couches using our phones.  

Due to our mindless usage of them, our phones have become toxic. Make a start; rediscover the joy of talking to a real human being.

A desire not to miss out on anything that might be happening with friends, celebrities and even mild acquaintances on social media has fuelled this tech addition. The faster smart phones become more alluring, the stronger the addiction.



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