By Dr Sapna Bangar
In this day and age, parents cannot get away from their children starting to use technology and social media at an early age. Like all things in life, this has its benefits as well as downfalls.
Research has indicated that internet use is shaping the way children think. Since children’s brains are still developing and grasping new information, technology is playing a huge part in the way that the brains of this generation is developing that is different from the previous generations. For example, reading encouraged our brains to be focused and imaginative. In contrast, the rise of the Internet is strengthening our ability to scan information rapidly and efficiently.
The main areas that are affected by excessive use of technology are the ability to sustain attention, imagination, memory, planning and organisation.
Social media helps us to stay connected with people, however in contrast, restricting the social interaction only to online platforms can lead to social isolation, sleep disturbances, health issues due to inactivity, emotional fragility, self-esteem issues. Young people are vulnerable to being easily influenced, have high peer pressure and a feeling of wanting to be part of a group. A recent survey published by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health found that online platforms can be associated with high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO, or the ‘fear of missing out.’ This is especially true for those teens already struggling with sensitive problems like poor self-esteem, social anxiety, body image issues, depression and relationship difficulties. The sense of inadequacy or feeling of ‘not being good enough’ is compounded when they see images of their peers having ‘perfect lives’ or perfect bodies’.
Also, the purpose of ‘self-expression’ sometimes becomes more of a contradiction, as the image that we post mostly are highly edited and an enhanced version of ourselves rather than our ‘real selves’.
Usually, there is a legal age for social media ranging from 13-18. Social media access should be given when parents are confident about the child’s ability to deal with the dynamics of social media. Parents need to be aware of the risks associated and be confident of their child’s emotional capability as well as resilience to navigate through the turmoil of social media platforms before they decide to give the go ahead.
Last but not the least, is the impact of a parent’s use of technology on children’s development. How many times do you check your phone for notifications while you are with your children? According to a study published by University of Michigan Health System, “Parents’ use of mobile technology around young children may be causing internal tension, conflicts and negative interactions with their kids. Children learn by watching us how to have a conversation, how to read other people’s facial expressions. And if that’s not happening, children are missing out on important development milestones. ”
To summarise, too much technology will result in your children having their brains wired in ways that may make them less, not more, prepared to thrive in this crazy new world.
Digital Media usage should be kept to a minimum, especially for young children as research clearly shows that real life interactions are much better for a child’s learning and development. It is always preferable to provide alternate ways to entertaining them such as outdoor play or board games and develop an interest in reading books. Above all, lead by example and keep the phone away when you are with your children to give them the undivided attention that they need.
(The writer is Psychiatrist & Head, Mpower-The Centre, Mumbai.)