The Perils of Growing Up Wired

The Perils of Growing Up Wired

Oct 02, 2013

“Iba na ang kabataan ngayon!”  (Kids are different these days!) That’s a line that we always hear from parents, generation after generation. We should all say, “Of course, and that’s good because change is necessary for the growth and development of humankind.” But the truth is, parents say that line because they’re concerned, scared and uncertain on how to go about with their parenting because of the fast changing times.

When we built our house in 1994 we did not make provisions for television and telephone extension in the boys’ rooms because we wanted to avoid making them tv addicts and “telebabads.” We also had (and still do) a No tv and computer games on weekdays rule. Little did we know that in their teens the landline would be nearing its extinction as it’s now replaced with a portable cellular phone. The tv is also somehow replaced with the computer. This computer has also evolved very quickly – from desktops to laptops to tablets and smartphones.

Somehow implementing rules on the use of these media devices has become more difficult. TV viewing time and computer use for school only on weekdays was easier to implement then because we had the tv in the den, the computers in the library and they were big machines. With the advent of the smaller devices and to borrow from the late Steve Jobs’ famous line, “1,000 songs in your pocket!” let me say that “We now have access to gazillion information and distractions in our pocket!” What more, since there is practically no booting time for these smaller devices, checking emails, FB, etc. is a lot more tempting to do several times a day instead of just once a day. Furthermore, since our children’s schools are also using technology, homework and other assignments are posted on social media, and textbooks are read from the tablet.

It’s alarming how the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of our “parenting laws” have to change within the same generation of children because of the lightning speed of technology advancement! So parents watch out, check out your IRR if they’re still relevant and effective.

Our kids are really bombarded with a lot of media exposure at a very young age. This is the subject of a survey and study done by the team headed by educator Dr. Queena Lee Chua a couple of years ago at the Ateneo and Miriam High School. When I was asked to be the moderator of the presentation of the survey results on the use of media last Saturday I was very interested and I encouraged parents to come and learn from it. Here are some of the things I picked up from the presentation and the open forum:

  1. When watching movies and tv shows comedy ranks number one in their choice, with love story a close second for the girls’ school. Porn ranks low so there was no cause for alarm for the Catholic educators of both institutions. Queena made a witty but accurate remark that she’s not worried about teens being interested in porn but is worried if their parents continue to be interested in it.
  2. Over 45% listen to the radio and 30% have texted, tweeted, participated in programs they listen to.
  3. Not too many read newspapers and magazines. Book readership (outside of school requirement) was just slightly higher with sci-fi and fantasy ranking number one among Ateneo boys and romance and chicklit among Miriam girls.
  4. When it comes to visiting websites, practically everyone does, and the top sites are youtube, facebook, google and Wikipedia. Curiously, there’s no Instagram yet on the list and I suspect if we’re to do the survey today, it will be among the top as well.
  5. Their online lives are quite active as almost a third of them spend more than four hours a day on social network sites. Sometimes they even prefer just staying home as long as their gadgets are with them and they have internet access.

The Dangers

These are the dangers we should watch out for in this early and extensive exposure to media and the rather invasive accessibility of our tiny gadgets. These are not only true for our kids but for us parents too.

1. Lower concentration. 40% of respondents said that they have 4 – 7 windows open at a time while 10% have more than 8. On top of that they can be listening to music, receiving text messages and doing their homework. So what do you expect? Too many stimulations at a time that they become nothing but distractions to the task at hand.

2. Ironically, this too much stimulation oftentimes causes our children to say “I’m bored!” (my forbidden line at home. See Boredom: The Forbidden Word)

3. Lack of physical activities. Because hours and hours can be mindlessly spent online a lot of our children miss out on the rough and tumble and important physical activities that their growing bodies need. This, together with the seemingly perfect combination of eating junk food while playing computer games, has resulted in the increase in obesity among school children.

4. Reduced meaningful family time, trouble with sleeping. Of course the mindless hours spent on gadgets will cause you these problems.

5. Getting depressed. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. create a rather unreal world for us. I’ve touched on this in a previous article. (See The Problem With Photoshop, Facebook, Instagram, Branding and Human IrrationalityThe world of Facebook and Instagram is a world where we show our best shots, best food, best places visited, awards, best boyfriend/girlfriend, and everything that’s beautiful. And mind you, this phenomenon is definitely not limited to our kids. We, their parents, are among those leading the pack in payabangan! Now here’s what could happen. We can become addicted to “Likes.” Do you know that some teenagers “agonize” over what to write on their FB status? Some friends get secretly hurt if their friends don’t give their thumbs up to a posted status or photo. Some say, “I just ‘Like’ everything so I won’t hurt anyone.” Some get depressed comparing their life with the seemingly “all things nice and beautiful” lives of some of their FB friends. How sad is that? But to me, the saddest and most dangerous part is if you yourself start believing in the image you created in FB or IG. Our life is a lot more troublesome than our social media image. But that only makes it a more colorful and richer life, so please, avoid this peril. If you start feeling depressed because of this, there’s only one thing to do: “Tantanan muna ang social network life and have a real life!”

6. Cyber bullying. This has been getting some attention as we hear news reports from abroad on teenagers committing suicide due to cyber bullying. Fortunately, in the survey this was not a significant concern of our kids.

7. Careless rants and other posts. These can get you in trouble. Don’t rely on your privacy settings. I’m sure Jean Napoles didn’t intend to show to the world (or did she?) all her luxuries in life that ultimately led to her mother’s arrest. As matter of rule, post only what you would post if it were a public post. I suggest you become the FB friend, Twitter and Instagram follower of your minor children so you can monitor their posts. I also wish to remind everyone that all these careless, posts, rants and other instantantaneous expressions deprive us of the important reflection time after an experience, pleasant or otherwise.

8. Addiction. This is one of the most serious perils of unsupervised use of media gadgets. In clinical studies done, they found out that gaming is addicting, and this is more prevalent among males. The chemical dopamine is released after a while of playing computer games. This is the same chemical that is released when drugs like cocaine, amphetamine, etc. are used. When they scanned the brains of the gamers they observed that after 30 minutes of playing the part of the brain that lit up was the same part of the brain that lights up when one uses cocaine and other drugs. This is a serious problem that we now have Internet Addiction Centers. When they studied which computer activities are addicting, gaming was number one, social networking is a far second. No worries about email, word, excel, power point as no addictions were revealed when they were tested. Surprisingly, a girl, not a boy, is the reported youngest ipad addict, and she’s only four years old. (See Four year old girl…)

9. “What we create are for the brain-dead!” These are the words of a Google executive and somehow it struck me because don’t we always hear the older people say, “Kids are very good these days, they can easily operate the computer, etc.?” Come to think of it, what we’ve thought to be something complicated (especially for the computer illiterate) is good for the brain dead! So when parents are in a hurry to introduce computers to their kids in the hope of giving them a head start, they may actually be doing the opposite. During the panel discussion where Michele Alignay and Nessy Fernandez (Queena’s team members), and Moca Dator (Ateneo Media Education teacher), and Mr. Gabby Mallillin (Ateneo principal), joined us, it was mentioned that the American Pediatric Society recommends that no exposure to media be made to children under two years old. It’s also important to note that many Silicon Valley executives send their children to the nontraditional Waldorf Schools which focus on physical activity and learning through creative hand-on tasks because they believe that computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention span.

10.Others. There’s a danger of our kids accessing information not yet suitable for their age, and communicating with strangers who may harm them. 

Parents’ Response:

This was one forum wherein we did not have to prod the participants to ask their questions. There were so many of them who wanted to ask or say something that it was difficult for me to end the open forum part. As what Fr. Bert Ampil, S.J. and Atty. Alma Pavia of our Parent Relations and Programs Office, Dr. Manolet Delfin and I had hoped, the parents were roused by the findings and hopefully, moved to action. One parent, who happens to be my friend Isca Abaya, immediately sent us an email sharing with us what she plans to do as her next key steps after attending the forum. With her permission, we are sharing them with you:

  1. Follow “no gadgets during meals” everyday, and occasionally observe “gadget holidays.”
  2. Reinforce computer use limit after school everyday, and really monitor compliance.
  3. Change children’s phones to simple phones for simply calling and texting only.
  4. Play board games, ball games, and swim together as a family.
  5. Encourage the following activities more: reading books, drawing and writing.
  6. Install cyber nanny software to censor access to specific sites.
  7. Engage our children in self-regulation.
  8. Have constant talks with our children on the value of finding their true passion, living real life and limiting life in the digital world.
  9. Delay giving our eight-year old daughter her own iPad. (She has been requesting for one.)
  10. Encourage our children to ask permission before playing on the computer (Gaming/social networking is not an entitlement, but a privilege).
  11. Require our kids to read the newspapers or watch the news everyday, and discuss key issues with us every night.
  12. Every night, follow the usual question “How was your day?” with ” What did you do to help another person today?”
  13. Most importantly, model the desired behaviors ourselves, as parents.

We cannot stop the tide of our children growing up wired. Sometimes I wonder if parents in the olden days also reprimanded their children when pocket books were first introduced, “Hey, you’ve been reading that book for hours. Stop it! Go run around or climb a tree!” Maybe they did. We do not want to totally eliminate these gadgets from our kids’ lives, but let’s see to it that they use them in moderation. Christmas is coming and for sure many of our kids’ wish lists include these gadgets. Before you buy that gadget, consider their age, responsibility and other critical matters. We’ve heard time and again that our greatest challenge these days is how not to raise self-centered, entitled children who are now referred to as the Me-Generation. We can’t blame them they’re exposed to products and services called iphone, ipod, ipad, imac, itouch, itunes, myphone, mydsl, ipotty (a training toilet with ipad dock), etc.

In the end it is still the values that we instill in our children that matter more than any of the gadgets that surround them. Aware of the Me Generation syndrome, let’s work even harder to make our children find their purpose in life, to make them realize that they were born not just for themselves but for others. To point out the importance of going beyond the self, I wish to end with a line delivered by the character of Steve Wozniak (Steve Jobs’ original partner in Apple) in the movie Jobs. Wozniak was leaving Apple and wanted to personally say goodbye to his friend one late night at the office when everyone else had already left. He tried once more to point out what he saw was wrong with his friend (Despite being a genius, Jobs was too arrogant, disloyal and inconsiderate even to his original Apple partners and friends), “Steve, you think the world begins and ends with you. That’s utterly small. And sad.”