Children caught in tech web

Children caught in tech web

In a middle-class school in small-town Jalandhar in Punjab, there was a unique problem. The teachers thought they had solved the issue of students getting mobile phones to school by strictly making sure that the youngsters locked their gadgets in lockers till it was time to go home.

But something was still odd. Authorities discovered that the school Wi-Fi had been hacked by the students and material was being downloaded even while their phones sat innocuously in their lockers.

If there is one subject that children even in primary schools across the country are acing, it is technology, and not just what is taught in schools. Their intent is clear, to be one step ahead of their elders.

Online education in today’s highly competitive system is a reality and in our marks-driven system a child will swim or sink depending on how computer studies are supplemented at home, not unlike math or science.

The internet has the kind of ability to improve our child’s cognitive skills that perhaps their teachers, struggling with lack of training, overburdened classrooms or incentives, struggle to impart.

Modern methods of teaching are evolving. Studying on tablets and being asked to send homework via e-mail is far removed from our times when we filled less ink into our pens and had more colour on our hands. This world is empowering and, at the same time, scary.

My almost 9-year old has told me categorically, “don’t complain about my marks in computers till you allow me to practice more, like children in my class”. My mind knows she is right, but my heart is still fighting, although I have already capitulated, and a mouse for the computer has been ordered.

Smart parenting then is the only mantra that will work: allow your child restricted access because peer pressure can be ruthless and breaks a child’s fragile confidence. Yet monitor it so closely that there is no scope to misuse it. There can be no freedom of the internet for our school-going children.

But are we parents instead misusing it for our own selfish ends? Today, there is no easier route to get out of parental responsibilities or even buy some downtime alone than by showering kids with gadgets.

Delhi has a somewhat herd mentality, and these days there is an exodus to a boarding school that reportedly allows children to get any five gadgets from home. For conventional folks like me, it defeats the very purpose of sending a child to boarding school.

There is also a delicate balance that can easily be flouted. In our maddeningly paced lives, sometimes for their well-being and our sanity, it is easy to give kids a mobile phone just so we can keep track of their whereabouts. But when 6-year olds play on their phones unaware of anything or anyone else around them, the line has been crossed.  

Technology is also breeding an aggressive generation. The realisation of digital addiction many times comes only when it is too late: not just suspected Blue Whale deaths, but also youngsters dying of a heart attack in the midst of a marathon gaming binge is not unheard of.

What isn’t filtered is easy to be preyed upon. From an innocent YouTube video to just one inadvertent click, unknown adventures are lurking at every step and many parents remain clueless unless they are on the ball themselves. When children can fudge their age so that they can preen about having a Facebook account, they are capable of much more.

But with everyone pushing the boundaries, we can either be constructive with apps that are informative or choose to be ignorant as our child goes on a trail of the popular and destructive. Parenting has never been trickier, and Apple founder Steve Jobs ironically was the man who didn’t give his own kids iPads.

Gadgets before the age of two, as most paediatricians will vouch, only hamper a child’s development. Yet, there is today more chances of coming across a toddler staring at an iPad while sitting in his pram than his mother making an attempt to engage him.

The onus is now on us parents, and we have to choose whether we want to guard the innocence of our children or let it fizzle out in childhood itself.

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