There are two things that we cannot deny. One, technology is here to stay. Two, it was an absolute lifesaver during the pandemic. However, since the invention of the smartphone and all its wonder, there’s been increasing concern around its impact on relationships, mental health, and society, in general.
We’re clearly attached to our phones; I published a related post on this topic on my personal blog.
A 2022 survey shows that, on average, Americans check their phone 344 times a day. That’s once every four minutes! I’m sure we will produce similar or even higher stats here.
A June 2021 German study titled “How Come You Don’t Call Me?” Smartphone Communication App Usage as an Indicator of Loneliness and Social Well-Being across the Adult Lifespan during the COVID-19 Pandemic found that even though the results are not conclusive, “higher social media use may be an advantage for older adults to overcome loneliness, whereas younger adults may benefit from less use”.
The report observed that “Loneliness is associated with an increased mental and physical health burden and premature mortality and has been described as a major public health concern”.
In this highly connected digital world, we’re increasingly isolated and lonely. Indicators are that social media is not always as helpful as it appears.
I’m not even at the social media level with our kids yet. I’m not ready. I can barely deal with it myself. Here’s what’s happening. The school recently sent communication on the “current trend of Huggy Wuggy infiltrating child-friendly apps and websites”.
My stomach turned as I viewed the links and videos. I started questioning the eldest first, on his own. Where did I learn that ‘divide and conquer’? My own childhood experiences?
“So, have you seen Huggy Wuggy?”, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. My temporary relief at his “no, I haven’t seen it” was immediately busted by his follow on, “but KG has”. I called the 7-year-old, still trying to remain cool and calm.
He insisted that he had not seen it on his own device but rather, a classmate had mentioned it to him and apparently “drew Huggy Wuggy” on his arm. Do I believe that? Has my child learned to lie already? I’m still not ok. Google Huggy Wuggy if you’re uninitiated.
Our kids have access to wifi only, no SIM cards, and can’t download anything without parental permission. But we know that there are ads in the games, YouTube Kids is not 100% safe either. Both nephews on my side of the family have phones with SIMs and I now spot them on WhatsApp status. I’m still processing this weird feeling.
So, my digital dilemma with our kids is fairly elementary. I’m still stuck on the basics; ‘what’s reasonable screen time’ for them. Outside of what’s required for school learning, there are widely varied reports. Some experts would have them off devices forever. But that’s not practical.
When I see them glued to screens, particularly the smaller devices (somehow TV is ranked ‘better’ for me) I feel a sense of guilt. Mainly because I love it when they’re running around, creating imaginary games, playing hide and seek, looking for dinosaur fossils, and the like. They’ve even managed to befriend the neighbour’s kids through the electrified fences which I find so sweet.
Here’s the other thing about keeping them ‘occupied’. They’re quiet, only come looking for me when their time is up. It also comes in very handy when Mr T. and I want alone time.
I’m not naïve, we can’t keep our children away from digital, but we have a responsibility to help them navigate the minefield that it is. As much as it’s an enabler for a large part of our lives today, it can be a dangerous alley. That’s the scary part for me.
So, what I am going to do?
For now, as a technologically challenged adult, I’m going to continue to try to maintain balance. Entertainment is not just online or digital.
Next, we need to invest in some monitoring software. And finally, I’m going to stay close to the parents in the know to keep me in the loop and educated.