Few adults in Dubai would dispute the addictive nature of mobile phone use. While undoubtedly useful, constant connectedness is putting a considerable strain on every individual’s time and mental function. This situation is even more alarming in the young.
Amid all the wonderful new technology, there is no downtime any more. Phones and other electronic communication gadgets are on, or near us, virtually all the time; their relentless streams of communication flowing. Anyone in a responsible position at work knows that this is a stress factor in their life. We all got swept away on the tide of innovation, but lasting damage is being done. It is not too late to take measures to limit this damage before it moves beyond our control.
Children nowadays become proud mobile phone owners anywhere between 8-12 years of age. Here in Dubai this may be even younger. They wield iPads from the moment they can safely hold anything in their hands. Toddlers, as young as 5 months old, stare mesmerised at their soft, ergonomically- designed case clad iPads.
Who would not be grateful for the peace and quiet this affords on a shopping trip, during travel or at other times where a bit of peace is vital? With little children sometimes it is just a relief to have time to think.
But unfortunately, once hooked, children demand more and more time on these gadgets. If they have their own phone, the messages, video calls, skype calls, buzz around with alarming frequency and suddenly every little detail of their life becomes the focus of a Snapchat, a Facebook post, or some other form of sharing. Do not be taken in by the educational nature of many games. Few children stick with those games for long, moving on to others very rapidly. This robs them of time, patience, perseverance, physical activity and slower-paced forms of enjoyment and social interaction, forcing them into a fairly shallow, but immensely competitive world, that is, quite literally, all pervasive.
That the existence of this, in itself marvellous level of communication capability, has, in turn, generated a hitherto unimaginable avalanche of posts of virtually no real meaning beyond a bit of fun is not under discussion here – alarming as this truly is in it sheer volume and complete lack of function. However the damage this connectedness is doing to us – and our children - physically, mentally and socially, is.
It will become increasingly impossible for children to spot the beauty in peaceful scenery, if they are used to seeing artificially generated pictures of high tech design, graphics and colours that are animated and exciting as an alternative. That is IF they witness it at all, and are not looking down at the brightness of their mobile phone screen.
A piece of classical music will become boring to them if they only ever listen to songs with words or even watch music videos. A book will become too challenging with its densely printed page and its sheer length, if they only read comic books or the instructions on Playstation, Wii or Xbox games.
Games are fun, games are good. But they are never going to impart all of what just being aware in the moment is. If a child is going to be alone for 6 hours every afternoon with a nanny and a handful of activities, then the games may seem like a godsend, but they are not education; in fact beyond an hour or so each day they are actual barriers to education.
A child presented with a tempting iPad is not going to opt for a half hour chopping onions, mixing cake batter, reading poetry or twanging around on a guitar making up songs for obvious reasons. The playing about aspect, the trial and error, the being used to making mistakes and giving things “a go” part of life is lost. With it the possibility of a child finding a talent or an interest that they did not know they had.
This time we are not talking about the dangers of unsupervised and unregulated internet usage. That is another complex area altogether. To quote Dr Tanya Byron, the well-known psychologist , “Letting your kids use the web completely unsupervised is like opening your own door and saying 'They don't know how to cross the road but they'll work it out.'”
What we are concerned with here is the distraction from life, and face to face social interaction that constant gadget usage inevitably brings. Add to that the very addictive nature of constantly checking, looking through posts, that young people find virtually irresistible. How much time goes on this out of their day? Is it at the expense of sleep? Of study? Of concentration? Sports activities? Interaction with family members or friends?
It has to be apparent to most parents that this is a negative, though enjoyable, influence in their child’s life. If, however, it is allowed to carry on unlimited, it will lead to some very stilted interaction and very limited family time. In addition it will encroach on time spent studying and sleeping.
Find below a few recommendations for limiting the damage in your home.
• Make rules about mobile phone usage when you are all at home. This must apply to all members of the family, including dads. Phones need to be put to one side and silenced during meals, family discussion time or communal viewing or socialising time. It may only be for half an hour at a time, but for all members of the family this will be a gain in terms of interaction. (There is nothing more disturbing than seeing people standing or sitting next to each other, each in his/her own little world, and wasting, literally, the precious time with a loved one, or friend.)
• When children are occupied with their school work, actively working or studying, phones and iPads need to be in another room and silenced (to stop the temptation of constantly looking). Much of what is shared and posted these days is really irrelevant. The incredible amount of time that is being squandered with these posts is truly a tragic waste – both from the posting person’s and from the readers’ point of view. Adding to this the damage being done to the quality of a student’s work when he/she is constantly being distracted by, and glancing at, his/her mobile, is quite unacceptable.Ensure that during study time mobile phones are out of the room and silent, not vibrating.
• If you are brave, encourage your children to put their phones in a pre-arranged place for all, but an hour, of the afternoon and early evening. In this manner, the waste of time, as well as the damage to social and family interaction, is limited. Children relearn to be comfortable without the need to be glancing at their phones every few seconds.
• Finally, children should not have mobile phones in their bedrooms at night. Ever. The beeping texts or video calls interfere with sleep. You may be sensible about your own child’s mobile phone usage, but there will be many other parents who are either unaware or do not mind. Do not allow their child to disturb yours.
Mobile phones have brought us so much in terms of connectedness, research and opportunities to work at our fingertips. Try to ensure, however, that they do not rob us and our children of many other precious moments of life.
Agnes Holly, BA English and German; MA Comparative Literature; Hornsby Dipl Special Educational Needs. Agnes has more than 25 years' teaching experience in various roles ranging from university to nursery teaching, in addition to on-going work bringing up 5 children