By Lina Ashar
As an educator I am often asked: "Is technology a boon or a bane?"
We need to understand that human beings are lazy by nature and would love it if other people did all their work. The introduction of technology has done precisely that. If you notice, over the years we have stopped writing letters; we now write informal emails. We do not remember phone numbers, we depend on our phones to remember them for us. We do not remember birthdates, Facebook does that for us and we also wish people online now instead of making that two-minute personal phone call.
We do not make the effort of remembering spelling, MS word corrects us if we are wrong. We now talk to people 10 miles from us and forget to talk to people sitting right next to us. We tell the whole world where we are and what we are doing. Technology is making our children dumber and, as parents, we need to train our children to use it wisely.
Teenagers are the biggest victims and addicts of technology. They are desperate to stay connected. They're afraid to be left out, as they feel they will miss something. This leads to a constant feeling of needing to be "on". It is like a substance addiction. Children are so overloaded with information that they cannot focus, thereby they retain very little.
Teenagers are looking for instant gratification and acceptance of who they are from their peers and Social media gives them that platform. Every picture or post they upload gets them a few likes and comments. This boosts their morale and that triggers the release of Dopamine, the feel-good chemical. This becomes a pattern that leads to addiction.
Having said all this, technology is also a boon. It has connected people from all over the world. Years ago, friends would lose touch with each other because there were limited modes of communication. However, today you can keep in touch with all your friends all over the world via whatsapp, viber, skype, Facebook and the like.
Technology has increased awareness. Today, you are aware of what is happening around the world only because of the minute-to-minute update that you get online. Extensive information is available at the touch of a button. Technology has helped reduce the use of paper. Gone are the days you typed or stored written documents; you can now digitally store them. Technology has encouraged self-learning. If you cannot afford to go for a cooking class, look for the recipe online and cook up a delicious meal. Want to learn how to edit a video? Take an online tutorial and follow the steps and you can do it all by yourself.
Please note: You can crib as much. However, you need to accept that technology is here to stay and there is no escaping its use. It is a wonderful tool if we use it appropriately. Here are a few tips you can use with your teenagers:
-- Limit screen time, not just the use of the internet. Excessive exposure to any activity will become a bane; hence it is important to limit screen time. Speak to your children and come to a mutual consensus on the number of hours they would like to spend in front of a screen (TV, video games, laptop or phones). Plan out other activities they can do with the spare time they have.
-- Guide them to use technology for constructive purposes. Technology can be used for reading, enhancing analytical skills, editing videos and more. We, as parents, need to guide them and keep them engaged at every step.
-- Encourage physical interaction to develop interpersonal skills. Encourage your children to interact with other children. Let them take up a class of their choice (art, dance, music). Or encourage them to play outdoor games. This increases physical interaction with others and thereby improves interpersonal skills.
-- Fix time for the family. Use this time for various activities, outdoor as well as indoors. There has to be a fixed time of the day when the full family sits together and interacts. You can play board games, have a story-telling session, draw, head to a nearby park, among others. Children need to have a sense of belonging which comes only when a family spends time together.
-- Limit access to sensitive sites, chat rooms and the like. It is very important to put child locks on sensitive sites and chat rooms, because you cannot be monitoring what your child is doing 24/7 and you need to make sure of your child's safety.
-- Put your phones and laptops down when talking to your children. Children learn from their parents. If you want children to pay attention to what you are saying, you need to build that habit by giving them complete attention when they are talking to you.
As parents it is up to us to make the best use of the digital world, take the effort to research what your children should do online so that it can become a learning experience and not just a way of escaping from the real world.
Plan their day for them in a way that they are given time to read, play outdoors, have screen time, enjoy family time and study. Take time out of your busy schedule to do fun things with children. It is very easy to blame technology. However, as parents we need to realise the needs of our children and take the extra efforts to spend time with them.
At the end of the day, it is all about replacing screen time with other engaging activities to keep your child busy.
(Lina Ashar is the founder of a chain of Kangaroo Kids Pre-schools and Billabong High International Schools across 29 different cities in India, as well as in the Maldives, Qatar and Dubai. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)