The world we live in is mainly based on the binary nature of it, black and white, sun and moon, good and bad, so on and so forth. Likewise, everything we have in this materialistic world has its own pros as well as cons. Technology is mostly like a sword with both sides sharpened. We can definitely use it to cut up something yet at the same time, if we are not careful we will end up hurting ourselves in the process of wielding it.
We live in an era of technology. The rate of development of technology has sky-rocketed compared to what it was a decade ago. Every passing second, a new addition is unveiled to this world and we almost cannot keep up with them. There is no doubt this growth is a blessing in many ways especially during a pandemic situation like now. Had we not been able to communicate as we do now, the world would be chaotic. Yet at the same time, there is no debate that this same growth has become a disaster for society as well. It has become so important in our lives to the point that we have become enslaved and dependent on it.
Humans are social animals. We cannot live alone, under any circumstances, whether it is a global pandemic or not, we are in constant need of being included, socializing, and communicating. Hence, the amount of engagement with technology has also increased dramatically since March 2020. The education systems have also been converted into online platforms for convenience. With that, the exposure and the time a child spends with technology has also increased at an alarming rate, and it is almost difficult to stop the children from trying their hands on high-tech devices either.
The inadequacy of awareness of sex in the Sri Lankan educational context has been a controversial topic for as long as I can remember. Everyone takes their time to ponder upon how that would affect the child’s growth and to point out the deficiencies of the political parties, the curriculum developers, and even that of the society when there are much more pressing issues to be addressed at the moment. Apart from Sex Ed, Tech Ed should also be called to attention. In my point of view, at this moment awareness of digital technologies should be spread and must be of utmost importance over anything else.
There are no queries as to how important technology is for a child’s development. It is proven that standard interfaces with technology contribute to better control of multi-tasking and allows better control over response time as well. But, with that being said we should address the fact how unmonitored screen time and unsupervised social media presence could affect a child’s development and their life at the same. Hence the children should be educated properly on how they should use digital technologies.
Young kids are by nature more inquisitive. They grab new concepts very easily. Active interaction with anything new for a couple of hours could turn a child into an expert whether or not we like it.
A decade ago, children used to play outdoors, enjoy peer-to-peer interactions, engage in all sorts of mischief, and lead a healthy and active life, yet with time the children have shifted their interests from physical activity to online activities. Today the children are avid users of laptops, notebooks, smartphones, video games, television, and much more rarely PCs.
Let’s set aside children, even kids nowadays are more proficient in the use of mobile devices than the elder generations. They might not yet know their letters, or to write or read, but they know how to capture a photograph with proper focusing, turn on their favorite cartoon on YouTube, and some even know how to use WhatsApp as well. The more they use digital technologies, the more they learn to navigate through them and most of the time the knowledge they possess cannot be apprehended by their families either. And on the other hand, when the tutorials available online are added to their already proficient minds, most of them become unstoppable not just figuratively yet literally as well.
It is with no doubt that the exposure to the whole world a child could gain via digital media is invaluable in learning, gaining new knowledge, becoming innovative, developing global interactions and relationships, and having access to the latest news and trends across the globe. Yet at the same time, there are some threats lurking behind those pros as well. For an instance, the people we meet on social media are most of the time not what they show us. It is really hard to identify the true colors of a person even if we meet and mingle with them physically. So, how could a child and most importantly through an online portal identify what sort of a person they are dealing with? The process of learning is sure to become monotonous if the student-teacher interaction is not maintained properly. The child’s brain is not prepared to be bored and dull. They need interaction and constant activity. Hence, the risk of being distracted is very high with them during these times of sitting in front of a screen from morning till dusk. Five ten years back, most of the children did not have access to any kind of social media, the ones who had it also were not constantly engaging with them. But now the situation is upside down. A house may lack the basic facilities, yet each and every child has their own mobile device. It is very hard to keep track of what they do, what they browse, and whom they meet online as the parents are in the constant struggle of making the bread and butter during these troubled times. Taking to account the number of cybercrimes that have been reported recently, it is of utmost importance that the children must be aware of what they are being exposed to as well as what could happen at any given moment.
On the other hand, the most depressing problem of social media and digital technologies is addiction. Researchers have found that options like ‘share’ and ‘like’ activate the reward center of the brain which influences our behavioral patterns. This region is most active during adolescence and hence the lives of the younger generation become centered on social media. This results in wasting a substantial amount of time on refreshing the news feeds, pondering upon the comments, and reacting to them most of the time. Many realize that they are wasting their precious time, yet it only adds to their misery and affects their mood negatively.
Another thing is that, the constant comparison, burden of living up to certain standards, cyber bullying, decreased one to one interactions, and continued staring on the brain, contribute to the ill development of the mental and social health of a child as well. They are always dissatisfied, and uncontended about everything in general. They tend to have the perception that everything they see online is the reality when the truth is far uglier. The anxious and moody nature could very easily change into a depression state if it is not attended to. And the obsession to post photographs and videos could also lead to many problems as well.
Last but not the least, the effect of these technologies on physical health should definitely be addressed. The physical activity of most children nowadays is limited to going from bed to the chair, then to the washroom and again to the bed. This has become a major drawback. Non communicable
diseases like, diabetes, cardiovascular problems and obesity have become more and more prevalent among youngsters. Moreover, the sleeping patterns are non-existent for most of them. They lose sense of time and would even go on for days if nobody scolded them.
So to sum up, digital technologies of the 21st century cannot be separated from our lives anymore whether we like it or not. Learning, communicating, playing everything else is intertwined with technology. Despite all the opportunities and positive impacts it has on our lives they accompany a potential risk, which not everyone can handle. So it is of utmost importance that we educate our younger generation about the risks, how to overcome them and how to react accordingly if faced by such situations, and in my point of view, this education should not only come from the parents but also should be included in the curriculum as well.
Faculty of Dental Sciences
University of Peradeniya.