By Meenal Arora
Parenting in the digital age has a whole new meaning as the psychosocial development of children is hugely impacted by digital media. Today, digital exposure has a huge part to play in the physical and mental growth and development of children. There are numerous benefits of growing up in the digital era. From information to entertainment, everything is on our fingertips. However, this is only one side of the coin. With addiction and cyberbullying at the top of the list, there are multiple negative aspects of growing up amidst a plethora of devices and the internet. The question that most parents have is: should we be worried?
Children and digital media
Numerous parents who watch their children become accustomed to spending hours on their computers or tablets are concerned about their well-being, and with good reason. This worry is not baseless as too much use of digital devices has been proven to negatively impact the physical as well as mental health of children. In fact, the National Health Service (NHS) of UK recently reported that 11-19 year olds with mental disorders are more likely to be regular social media users. Further, it is common knowledge that too much digital exposure cuts down the time spent on healthy outdoor play. This leads to problems such as laziness, obesity and even depression. Moreover, too much digital media eventually has an impact on the eyes. The negative impact, therefore, is significant. However, the situation does not need to become this dire or worrisome.
The Center for Communication and Development Studies recently found that 25 per cent of all Indian children have access to smartphones and 18 per cent use these solely as educational tools. With the internet providing a wealth of knowledge to young children, digital media can be used as a smart tool to bolster knowledge and increase exposure to a massive amount of useful information. Furthermore, exposure to media can polish the reading, writing and critical thinking skills of children. It can teach them how to form opinions and then express these opinions confidently among their peers.
Technology in the classroom: Enhancing education in the digital age
As the advantages of exposing children to digital media become apparent, schools have started equipping themselves with digital devices that enhance the process of teaching. Leading schools in India are now offering technology aided learning, which includes interactive white-boards, robotic learning systems, online learning platforms, e-books and much more. The younger generation is much more comfortable reading and learning digital text than printed text, which is why schools are employing digital media, accepting it as a friend and not a foe.
Moreover, as the job landscape is pervaded by technology, jobs across all industries are becoming tech-centric to a certain degree. In such a scenario, it is essential for students to be aware of leading technologies such as data analytics, artificial intelligence and cyber security. Since these skills are much better grasped through practical and not just theoretical teaching methods, it becomes of the utmost importance to introduce digital technology to children from an early age.
Interaction not isolation, learning not addiction
Technology is all around us and our children are going to be influenced by it, one way or another. The key is for parents and educators to encourage healthy internet and digital media practices. Parents must regulate screen time for children and place some degree of parental controls on the content that children have access to. Furthermore, children should be made completely aware about the repercussions of excessive digital media usage. Parents must also create a safe space wherein children can freely talk about their experience with digital media.
By having conversations and building confidence in children, parents can make sure that digital media is used as a means of interaction and not isolation. With healthy regulation in place, parenting in the digital age can be much more efficient and much less daunting. With family movie nights, multiplayer online gaming and many other ways to bond as a family, it can in fact make parenting much more fun.
(The writer is Founder Director, Shemford Group of Futuristic Schools.)