Variety

Are computers the new playground?

Updated on: Jun 21, 2012
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Ritika Prakash, mother of two, was engrossed in listening to her friend extol her son’s tennis talent. Before she could put her hands together to clap for the boy came the punch: the boy “played on the V” – V being the abbreviation of Virtual World!

It wasn’t long ago that if we wanted to write, we put pen to paper, waited patiently for the next programme on radio or television to listen to our favourite song, or went to the library for information for a project... In those days, computers and other digital gadgets were just ‘fun’ things.

That ‘conventional’ age continued till the early 1990s. Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. The digital age was upon us. Technology was no more ‘just fun’. From health and wealth and down to our happiness, technology silently infiltrated our lives.

The biggest change was seen in schoolchildren. The education system went to the next level. It was no more ‘chalk and talk’. New systems of teaching were introduced, and our children became tech-savvy. Schools began to gear their classes to include computerised learning. Calculators were allowed in math classes and it was no big deal if children did not know their tables. Gone are the days of bicycles and playing outdoors. Children today are more tech-savvy than ever before and cannot imagine life without computers, video games, Internet, and cell phones. It’s not unusual to find children immersed in their iPods, oblivious to everything around them.

Statistics show that outdoor activities and play time with friends among children are on the decline. The trend seems to be to play online games, surf the Net or have a virtual chat with friends. Family outings are restricted to malls, multiplexes, game zones and the like.

“It cannot be denied that technology has made our children smarter, more aware and up to date than before. As many schools are using technology and computer tools to impart education, and a lot of projects need students to surf the Net, our students need to be tech-savvy. It is a good thing,” says the principal of a well-known institution in Mumbai.

Food on the Web

Aditi Talreja, Director, DeliveryChef.in, echoes this opinion. “Technology has slowly but surely become an integral part of everyone’s lives, including schoolchildren. Working mothers are at ease that their children can order food on the Web. We even have facilities where parents can allot a budget to their children for food on DeliveryChef.in so that children do not need to handle cash. Our Web site is popular when school kids need to order food during tuitions or group projects. In fact, the specials that we put out for Teacher’s Day were well appreciated by both students and teachers.”

Well, it would seem that technology is neither all good nor all bad. Used wisely, it is a perfect tool for growth and development.

One of the most prominent effects of technology is that it nurtures instant gratification and complacency. Online shopping, virtual chatting, vast amounts of information at the click of a finger and hordes of other activities make us lazy. “We bear the danger of raising a hedonistic generation that lives in the thrill of the computer-generated moment and is at the crossroads of detaching itself from what the rest of us would consider the real world,” warns Shrikant Hazare, COO Kooh Outdoor Activities, an organised sports outfit set up with a mission to take ‘Kids out of Home’ (KOOH), to revive their love for physical sports.

“Many children, especially from higher income groups, keep slipping into virtual reality very often. For them, that is the real world. This gives rise to many problems including cyber crime,” adds Dr Ajit Dandekar, consulting psychiatrist.

With their needs getting fulfilled instantly, we are raising children who don’t know the value of patience. Moreover, as the standard of income keeps rising and family time decreasing by the day, parents indulge their children more and more. It becomes a matter of pride to own the most recent digital toys and flaunt it. When ‘each one owns one’, children never learn the value of sharing and compromise. This later snowballs into discordant inter-personal relationships leading to troubled marriages and so on.

Tendency towards violence

Research shows that children who play virtual games for long durations of time, run the risk of stunted brain growth and heightened urge towards aggression. Computer games require the repetition of simple actions. They only develop quick reflexes. This results in lack of stimulation in the frontal lobe of the brain, which remains under-developed. This crucial part needs to be activated to effectively produce a chemical called serotonin.

Serotonin represses anti-social urges like violence, aggression and anti-social behaviour.

Adds Ritika, “The primary, secondary and tertiary skills are developed in the first six years of a child. The use of technology at a young age cannot give your child the same mental stimulation that a book or a sport can. Sadly children lose out on having a sense of purpose, goal, team spirit and, most importantly, winning and losing.”

“Today, the value of ‘losing’ is undermined and shunned. In life, it is important to ‘lose’ or ‘fail’ to develop a positive sporting spirit and a strong character. After all, it is only tough times that make you resilient. Can any computer games give that?” asks Tina Sharma, an affluent mother.

“Obesity is a major illness amongst children from upper middle class families,” says Dr Dandekar. The increase in the number of obese children is often attributed to technology. Most gadgets keep children sedentary. Worse, as competitive parents push their wards to get more tech-savvy than their peers, they toss their children more swiftly into adulthood.

Sense of isolation

Such children don’t necessarily become introverts, rather they shun social interaction. Unknowingly, they isolate themselves by getting engrossed in a virtual world which affects their social and behavioural development. People cannot differentiate between information, knowledge and wisdom. “Today most of us are informed and knowledgeable, but are we wise?” asks Dr Dandekar.

“The potential impact of technology in the later years of life is far-reaching and potentially harmful in influencing the health-related behaviours of children and adolescents. Our uber-connected lives have made us virtually available at any time, at any place — movies, family dinners, traffic lights,” says Hazare.

Several studies in both children and adults have found an association between TV-watching and obesity. While these are health related concerns, overdependence on gadgets and technology in the long run can result in reticent and socially withdrawn adults. Poor social skills, immature emotional responses to daily struggles, shorter attention spans and a marked reduction in the ability to think abstractly are some of the well-known effects. High reliance on luxuries and convenience leads to reduced adaptability in life and a flexible disposition, he adds.

But, it has to be conceded that today computers are serious teaching tools. Many tutoring programmes are designed for both fun and learning. This is valuable in terms of developmental learning and other skills. Technology provides children with tools they can utilise to solve problems and access information on their own. Video and PC games can be great ways for children to collaborate and practise team building.

While strict and regular monitoring is needed, parents must control the desire to turn their children into technical robots, says Sushmita Jain, an instructor from a well-known school. Children should be taught to use these gadgets in moderation to obtain the best of both worlds, and in the process be equipped to succeed as productive and technically savvy adults.

So, while technology has improved the quality of our lives, there is a tradeoff in the negative effects technology has on children.

However, technology is here to stay. The children of today will be the leaders of tomorrow. Technology provides the foundation and gives a very good base for them to develop and advance. Using digital toys and user-friendly gadgets helps them prepare for a ‘super charged digital future’.

So, welcome to the digital age, welcome tech kids.

Published on March 12, 2018

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