As an educator I am often asked this question: "Is technology a boon or bane?"
We need to understand that human beings are lazy by nature and would love it if other people did all their work—the introduction of technology has done precisely that. Over the years, we have stopped writing letters, instead tapping out informal emails. We do not remember phone numbers,depending on our mobiles to pull them up for us. We do not remember birth dates, because that's what Facebook is for; we also wish people there instead of making that two-minute personal phone call. We do not make the effort of remembering spellings because there's spell-check and auto-correct. We talk to people miles away from us and ignore those who are sitting right next to us. We tell the whole world where we are and what we are doing. Technology is making our children dumber and as parents we need to train our children to use it wisely.
Make the effort to research what your children should do online so that it can become a learning experience and not just a way of escaping from the real world.
Teenagers are the biggest victims and addicts of technology. Teenagers are desperate to stay connected. They're afraid to be left out, afraid they will miss something. This leads to a constant feeling of needing to be "on". It is like a substance addiction. Children are so overloaded with information that they cannot focus, and so they retain very little.
Teenagers are looking for instant gratification as well as acceptance of who they are from their peers. Social media gives them that platform—every picture or post they upload gets them a few likes and comments, thus boosting their morale and triggering feel-good chemicals such as dopamine. This becomes a pattern that leads to addiction.
Having said all this, technology is also a boon. It has connected people from all over the world. Thanks to WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook, Viber and the like, we are able to stay in touch with friends that we might have normally drifted away from due to distance.
Technology has increased awareness too. Today you are aware of what is happening around the world because of the minute-to-minute updates that you get online. Technology has helped reduce the use of paper now that you can store documents digitally. Technology has encouraged self-learning. If you cannot afford to go for a cooking class, you can look for the recipe online and cook up a delicious meal. If you want to learn how to edit a video, you can take an online tutorial and become proficient with some practice.
Fact is that for all its pitfalls, technology is here to stay and there is no escaping the use of it. It is a wonderful tool if we use it appropriately. Here are a few tips you can use with your teenagers:
1. Limit screen time, not just the use of internet
Excessive exposure to any activity can be harmful, so it is important to limit screen time. Speak to your children and come to a mutual consensus on the number of hours they can spend in front of a screen (TV, video games, laptop or phones) and plan out other activities they can do with their spare time.
2. Guide them to use technology for constructive purposes
Technology can be used for reading, enhancing analytical skills, editing videos and more. We as parents need to guide them and keep them engaged at every step.
3. Facilitate physical interactions to build interpersonal skills
Encourage your children to interact with other children. Let them take up a class of their choice (art, dance, music etc). Or encourage them to play outdoor games. This increases physical interaction with other people and thereby improves interpersonal skills.
4. Fix time for family
There has to be a fixed time of the day when the full family sits together and interacts, whether indoors or outdoors. You can play board games, have a story-telling session, draw together, head to a nearby park etc. Children need to have a sense of belonging which comes only when a family spends time together.
5. Block access to inappropriate sites, chat rooms etc
It is very important to put child locks on inappropriate sites and chat rooms. You cannot be monitoring what your child is doing 24/7 but you need to make sure of their safety.
6. Put away your own devices when talking to them
Children learn from their parents, and if you want them to listen to what you are saying, you need to build that habit by giving them your complete attention when they are talking to you.
As parents it is up to us to make the best use of the digital world. Make the effort to research what your children should do online so that it can become a learning experience and not just a way of escaping from the real world. Plan their day for them in a way that they are given time to read, play outdoors, have screen sessions, enjoy family togetherness and study. Take time out of your busy schedule to do fun things with your children. It is very easy to blame technology, but you need to make sure that you are not falling short first. At the end of the day it is all about replacing screen time with other engaging activities to keep your child busy.