Over the past few weeks especially following the BBC News Africa documentary on codeine abuse in Nigeria, a lot of focus (rightly so) has been on the drug and substance abuse. With each passing day the stories of what some youths allegedly sniff, ingest or do to get high, sounds more and more bizarre – from “vodka eyeballing” to “lizard dung”. While some of these stories may sound totally unbelievable, it is important that we continue to pay attention and have conversations with our children about the menace of drug and substance abuse and how they can stay safe.
My focus in this article though is on another type of addiction that is speedily drawing everybody (young and old) into its web – Digital Addiction. While many of us may not have gotten to the point of being labeled “Digital Addicts”, what is obvious is that adults and children are putting in more screen time than is healthy.
A study commissioned by Nokia revealed that the average person checks his/her phone 150 times a day (every 6.5 minutes). Considering that adults typically have more self-control than children, imagine the precarious situation our children must be in. Children now own smartphones and laptops at increasingly younger ages. This translates to an increase in screen time and exposure to numerous risks.
While some parents have a fair knowledge of cyber-risks and many more intuitively know that protracted screen time can have adverse effects on a child, I’m not sure it really sinks in the toll it can take on a child’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
When it comes to drug or substance abuse, it is somewhat easier to restrict a child’s interaction with the triggers. However, in a hyper-connected digital world where digital devices have become the tools that our children use for learning, leisure and socializing, they are exposed to potential digital addiction triggers 24/7 making restrictions a lot more difficult.
Diane is doing her assignment and needs to get on the Internet to research something. In the course of doing the research, a message pops up and before she knows what’s happening she’s been chatting for 1 hour.
Ejiro is playing an online game with friends; he’s feeling bad that he’s losing and one of the players compounds the situation by passing a derogatory comment about him. His thoughts shift to how he is “such a loser in life and can’t seem to do anything right”.
Ada posts a picture on Instagram and within 30 minutes she has gotten 500 likes. “Wow! I’m popular, people like me. I must keep posting this kind of pictures” she thinks to herself. What starts out as harmless fun, has the potential to spiral out of control with impending adverse effects.
As beneficial and entertaining as technology and social media can be, if we do not teach our children “balance” and how to have a healthy relationship with both, we would find ourselves dealing with consequences of a more insidious nature than the drug situation. The aftermath manifesting in mental health issues; emotional instability and adults who are unable to “do life” productively. Thinking about it, could there be a relationship between the rise in drug and substance abuse and the time children; teens and young adults spend on social media?
This would be a good juncture to throw in something I learned from Tristan Harris the Founder of the Center for Humane Technology. “The race to keep children’s attention trains them to replace their self-worth with likes; encourages comparison with others,; and creates the constant illusion of missing out”. As Tristan helps us understand, most apps and digital products are designed to keep us hooked! Find time to watch this TEDTalk. It is an eye-opener.
No doubt there is a lot happening to cause parents and educators concern. But the good news is we can do something to helping to salvage the situation. The starting point is to recognize the need for us to be intentional about fighting what is deliberately designed to turn our children and us into addicts. We need to deliberately save our teenagers (who are most vulnerable) from the emotional and mental trauma of allowing social approval determine their self-worth We need to teach our children about balance and boundaries. We need to be proactive and not wait until we have a catastrophe on our hands.
Now that we know what needs to be done, let’s considered a few tips on how we can empowering our children with effective screen time management skills. Of course, it goes without saying that the effectiveness of the interventions we employ would depend on the age of the child.
1. Be a positive role model. I heard a speaker once say, “the greatest compliment your child can pay you is to imitate you”. How would you feel if your child imitated you in the area of your tech usage? Make adjustments if you have to.
2. Limit your children’s screen time. Agree on a maximum daily time allowance and enforce it. Agree on time periods when technology can be used and times when it’s a “no-no” e.g. at meal times. Consider turning off your Wi-Fi at scheduled times.
3. Deliberately ensure they engage in frequent real play with other children. Even though “the modern day playground is virtual”, it is necessary for a child’s physical well-being, to engage in outdoor play. Social skills are developed from face to face contact with real people.
4. Invest in board games (monopoly) cards, Ayo (for my Naija people) and have a family games night once a week/month. This would foster family bonding.
5. Enhance your child’s DQ (Digital Intelligence Quotient). Inculcate in them responsible digital citizenship skills. RAVE Et Al and other organizations globally are championing the #DQEveryChild initiative aimed at inculcating in children from as young as age 8, core skills to help them maximize the benefits and minimize the risks associated technology usage. To find out more visit www.dqinstitute.com.
The bottom line according to Psychology Today is that
Take action now, be mindful and deliberate about ensuring that neither you nor your children cross the line from Use to Dependence to Addiction.
This blog is powered by RAVE Et Al (RAVE) a social enterprise that partners with parents, schools, government & other stakeholders to provide relevant capacity building programs for children/teens and young adults (ages 8 and above) in the area of values, life skills & digital citizenship education.
As the pioneer DQ Ambassador in Nigeria (first in Africa) and a member of the DQ Coalition, RAVE Et Al is championing the #DQEveryChild initiative in Nigeria. Our mission is to enhance our children’s Digital Intelligence Quotient (DQ) and set a global standard of digital citizenship for all children around the world.