It has been hard to keep children entertained during lockdown. Essential workers, like myself, still went to the office or worked from home, even during Level 5. The lockdown has not only hit people’s pockets, but it has also taken a mental toll on adults and children alike. Children like to play with their age mates, but the pandemic put a stop to normal socialisation. Plans had to be made to ensure they were occupied in some way to keep them out of mischief or from sinking into depression. The easiest alternatives are digital games, cell phones for networking, and television. However, if parents don’t put their supervision caps on, technology will wind up presenting more challenges than solutions. It’s a monster threatening to devour mankind, if it hasn’t already. Jaron Lanier, author of Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now calls technology “manipulation machines”, and that they are! We get connected to them anticipating they will work for us, but we end up living for them.
As a child I played hopscotch and dodge the ball on the dusty streets, with real friends. I remember at some point even rummaging through my two tailor neighbours’ bins for scrap material so that my sister and I could make our own dolls and the clothes to go with. Boys made their own soccer balls using plastics. Now every other child is hoping for an iPhone, iPad or the latest Xbox on the market. Of course it wouldn’t make sense to stay in the dark ages. Life has to evolve and there has to be new developments. But technological evolution can complicate life while trying to make it simpler. While it might look like today’s young ones have it easier with their own gadgets and uncapped internet in their homes, they have actually missed out on a lot of interesting play. Google’s former Design Ethicist, now co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, Tristan Harris, says technologies that are available were not designed by child psychologists looking to protect and nurture children. Kids are a lot lonelier now, as interpersonal relationship are fast becoming a thing of the past. Hours upon hours are spent liaising with invisible friends, and children are now under pressure to dress and act a certain way to keep up with trends they see on social media. There is now a considerable degree of mob psychology controlling young people, and this denies them the opportunity to grow up as individuals. In order to become popular on social media, some are resorting to adopting personalities that are far removed from who they really are, while some are so desperate that they’ll strip naked and post pictures of themselves online, just to get more followers than the next person. Apparently your worth on the social media streets is dependent on how many followers you have on Twitter and Instagram. In the US, the increasing number of teenage suicide and self-harm has been attributed to technology, and social media in particular.
Children now lead sedentary lifestyles as technology has turned them into couch potatoes. Childhood and adolescent obesity is escalating, and this also has been attributed, to some extent, to the unfettered use of technology. Instead of going out there shooting hoops or running around the yard, children play virtual games around the clock, which unfortunately do not burn calories or stimulate creativity. There is an even bigger price to pay for the technological addiction that has gripped the world. Children are becoming illiterate. A study found that 8 out of 10 Grade 4 learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning in any language, even the children’s home language. Among such factors as shortage of libraries and inadequate teaching practices, the study also blames a poor reading culture on the inability.
Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth I was a teenager. I didn’t have access to the internet or a cell phone. We only had a landline, and our father liked to dive for it when it rang, even when he knew it was unlikely to be his call. If a boy asked to speak to me or any of my sisters, my father would ask, “Uri kuda kutaura kutii? (What would you like to talk about?) It was horrible, and we sometimes wished he was a drinker so he could go to the local beer hall like other men, and give us a chance to enjoy a degree of freedom. We got dumped by impatient boyfriends because of our dad.
Now very young kids stay holed up in their rooms, prancing about dark and dingy social media streets, mostly with no ‘nosey’ parent breathing down their necks. Sadly, one day things will come a cropper. Former Miss SA hopeful, Bianca Schoombee, comes to mind. Schoombee was forced to withdraw from the pageant after tweets she posted when she was about 14-years-old resurfaced. Some of the tweets were deemed to be racially abusive, while others body-shamed certain individuals. Her excuse? “I was young, I’m not the same person anymore.” A part of me feels sorry for Schoombee. She really was just a child when she posted those things. I wouldn’t want to be judged by things I did when I was 14! For me the bigger issue isn’t the obnoxious remarks she made, but the fact that she was running amok on social media at that age. Not to shift blame to her parents, but parents should monitor their children’s online activity more closely. But with teenagers, one might never win. Social media has so many vices one wouldn’t want their child exposed to, such as distasteful images, videos and language, predators on the prowl, and a sense of freedom that prompts people to write vile stuff that will come back to bite them in the backside. Old sins cast long shadows. Now Schoombee’s dream to be the next Miss SA is dead in the water. Fortunately for some of us, our mistakes as teenagers are not immortalised by our digital footprint.
Grown-ups are hooked to their gadgets, and this behaviour is cascading to the children. In order to be able to devote their time to these gadgets, the children have to be distracted – by giving them their own gadgets. but sometimes there are hard lessons to be learned, and usually much too late. Young girls have gone missing or ended up in paedophile’s lairs at the click of a button. Social media has swallowed grown men and ruined careers. What chance do children stand if no one looks out for them? And who would look out for them if the adults are also struggling with their own addiction?