Wired? Yes. Wiser? No
The fast-changing gizmo world is charming the younger generation. This is a cause of concern and anxiety for parents, caregivers, educationists and psychologists. Questions like how much is enough, when is the right time to introduce the devices, how to strike a balance and avoid extremes, keep lurking in everyone’s minds
Vibha Sharma

Photos: Manoj MahajanChange is definitely the one thing that is constant in life. That is precisely what we all are witnessing, thanks to quantum leaps that information and technology are making to pervade every sphere of our lives. The past couple of decades have been so IT bound that it is no exaggeration to say that the timeline would show a clear demarcation of era before Google and the one post it.

Tech gadgets like laptops, tablets, iPads, smartphones et al are present everywhere and it appears that there is some device in every pair of hands or stuck to the ears. Yes, this is the reality of today’s world. The fast-changing gizmo world is spelling its charm the most on the younger generation and this is a big cause of concern and anxiety for parents, caregivers, educationists and psychologists.

Questions like "How much is enough, when is the right time to introduce the devices, how to strike a balance, how to avoid extremes", keep lurking in the minds of all the above mentioned when it comes to technological gadgets and children.

The fact is there is no precedence of having seen the outcome of technology on growing children. So it is hard to predict how today’s children, coexisting with technology, would grow up to be.

Perhaps the wired world would hardwire the brains of children quite differently as compared to the previous generations. It is possible that the children now may not need to remember a lot of things when they can just remember where to find that information from.

There is no denying the fact that kids these days are busy learning net etiquette, while the real-world etiquette is found missing. We often see people glued to their virtual world through a variety of gadgets, unmindful of the "I-don’t-care" signal that emanates from them in the real world. Often, the extended hours that children spend in front of one screen or the other are causing adverse effects on their physical and mental health. New problems like ‘Facebook depression’, ‘internet-use disorder’ are plaguing the younger generation when they start to lose interest and touch with the real-world and reality.

Studies reveal that the addiction of these electronic gadgets is such that children as young as five tend to be aggressive, irritable and hostile when deprived of their iPads/laptops/tabs. Psychologists point out that video game and internet addictions share the characteristics of other addictions, including emotional shutdown, the lack of concentration and withdrawal symptoms if the gadgets are removed. `A0`A0

A student’s perspective

Vaishali Sethi, a student of Business Studies (University of Delhi), shares her views on technology and studies. When asked if tech gadgets pose a big distraction in the study routine, she says, "I think the term ‘necessary`A0evil’ is tailor-made for this situation. In today’s times, it will be absolutely`A0inappropriate`A0to overlook the merits of technology. Finding information on Google on a tiny smartphone is any day much easier than fishing for the same in some old year-book. Whatsaap-ing is better than snail mail, email and even SMS. Technology has its own merits. But it won’t be wrong to put forth the`A0argument`A0that these gadgets are actually a big distraction in the study routine of`A0adolescents`A0nowadays. The applications on these gadgets are so addictive, people are constantly tap-taping, punching letters on their mobile devices."

On the issue of tech influence on the social and psychological behaviour of children, she says: "That is the biggest casualty. Earlier, kids would run out to play, now they simply sit on the`A0couch with their gaming consoles or tablets. Gaming has entered the study rooms. Studies have`A0entered`A0the bathrooms. Parents and teachers have become ‘friends’. We have friends everywhere, but no one to share your real thoughts with". And suddenly, very suddenly, the children who were supposed to be`A0innocence personified, are no longer so. They know more than what is age-appropriate. They talk everything. And this is not healthy. But technology can be God if used appropriately. Unlimited knowledge. Unlimited fun. On-the-go access. Unlimited connectivity. Easy access to almost all information resources. What else can one ask for? (except for the wisdom to use it to our advantage).

Wired or the tired generation?

Kirthi Kamath, an MPhil in Clinical Psychology (NIMHANS), is currently working as consultant Clinical Child Psychology in Shree Brain and Spine Clinic, Bangalore.

Her special area of interest is child and adolescent mental health. She says, "With increasing gadget usage, children tend to have limited social interaction and personal contact with others. Outdoor games have been replaced with cartoons and computer games. Children tend to sit and do most activities in front of the T.V. In such cases, the incidence of obesity can be high because of a sedentary lifestyle. Another area of concern is that children do not want to read and their language skills get adversely impacted."

Kirthi is not completely averse to technology either and adds, "Certain TV programmes are educational and children do gain from the same. Certain characters have strong personalities and these do have a positive effect on the child. The iPad is an excellent learning tool if used wisely." Some international schools are using them to facilitate learning. Technology is going to advance and we have to keep pace and our children will be exposed to this. Parents can empower them to use the same to the best of their abilities and not abuse the same. Experts feel that rather than deprive the child of tech toys, their usage and exposure should be supervised and monitored by caregivers and parents.

What you can do

  • There is no point wishing away the fact that today’s children are growing up with technology and smart devices.

  • They are smart learners of all aspects of tech toys, much more than their previous generations could ever be.

  • They need to be taught how to be smart users of technology and how to turn it into an asset rather than to make it a cause of debacle in the long run.

  • Parents, beware of "A-tablet-a-day- keeps-the-nanny-away" syndrome.

  • Be your child’s role model. If it is hard for you to keep your hands and eyes off any screen, don’t expect your child to behave otherwise.

  • Spend exclusive time with children, but without any screen in between.

  • Encourage the children to play with their friends and to take up sports.

  • Participate actively in organising family outings and outdoor activities with children.

  • Teach them that gadgets are tools to empower us not to overpower us.

An educationist’s viewpoint

Anupama PatriAnupama Patri is a trained Montessori teacher, who has worked in Bangalore for many years. She is clearly not in favour of exposing young children to the world of gadgets too early. "In my experience as a teacher and as a mother all these educational gadgets for young children are mere marketing expressions. Children need to explore their surroundings and their environment with the help of their senses. How can one expedite this process by offering some equipment which does a whole bunch of things by just the press of a button?"

Thinkstockphotos/Getty imagesWhen asked about the impact that the tech gadgets have on the behaviour of young children, she explains, "In the natural world there is always cause and effect e.g. To move objects with different densities we need to exert varying amounts of pressure on them. This is best understood through the real live experiences. When children are exposed to a lot of screen time, they are unable to differentiate between reality and fantasy. This could impact their learning. Moreover, electronic media is very addictive. What starts off as a baby sitting aid ends up becoming the main stake." For those confused on where to draw the line, she shares Dr. Maria Montessori’s quote: "Never give more to the brain than we give to the hand."