What is to become of the next generation born in the digital age?

The one fateful question looming on everyone’s minds:

What is to become of our children in an age where technology has embedded itself in every aspect of our lives?

Speaking for myself on this matter I was born in 1994. Shortly after this time in the early 2000’s did technology start to take a massive leap forward.

When I was in high school that’s when the revolutionary iPod was invented, and eventually the iPhone. We were able to appreciate the complexity of these devices and the convenience they offered since the first decade of my life was mostly technology free except for the standard Windows desktop computer and gaming consoles I had at home.

It is because of the fact that I spent a lot of my childhood outdoors before I got exposed to technology that I was able to detach myself from technology and understand the value of social company face to face.

For children growing up today it is a lot harder to physically detach themselves from technology and enjoy an uninterrupted offline experience; since technology is already prevalent and has overtaken a large part of culture and methods of communication. Children often look to the digital devices not as an extension of their social life but as literally life itself.

For parents it is hard to understand their children’s perspective, as early childhood norms have shifted away from playing Pokemon cards, sports and riding bikes, to social media and playing games online with friends.

So cyberspace has become the main outlet for children’s entertainment and also their expression. If they are to be encouraged to try an alternative they will feel left out from the other children who are already online.

This worries many futurists, child psychologists and cyberpsychologists alike since…

An active play environment with a strong foundation of love from the caregivers is integral for child development

The task of parenting is difficult as it is, especially when you are dealing with toddlers at the terrible two’s stage.

Now imagine if you could make it a lot easier if you give your toddler your iPad and play a cartoon on repeat. Now suddenly you feel as though technology has come to the rescue since your child has stopped crying.

I mean if the child is kept busy and isn’t crying, what’s the harm right?

WRONG – there is a plethora of research to suggest that neglecting and ignoring your child will stunt their emotional growth and is a contributing factor to trauma experienced in adulthood.

When a child is crying and even being bothersome, they are trying to communicate and form a bond with their parents.

The tablet/laptop/mobile phone may seem like an easy pacifier to use for your children but the reality is that children need to be active and loud.

A lot of research also indicates that playtime is an integral part of child development. Especially face to face, as children learn to read each other’s emotional cues and understand cultural and social dynamics this way.

If children are to be hooked online at an early age, this aspect of growth will be stunted even if they are speaking to each other through headsets or over the phone.

In the long term this could potentially mean that children’s emotional intelligence may decline even as they reach adulthood. More studies will definitely need to explore this to provide more clarity on the exact affects early-life technological usage has on different aspects of emotional intelligence.

Nevertheless, if you see your child starting to look withdrawn and becoming too quiet, they most likely will need more of your undivided attention.

Children are an easy target for criminals operating online

With proper parenting and guidance, children will immediately understand that certain actions yield certain consequences offline. However, cyberspace is a whole different ball-game…

It is important to mention that in the online world we have hackers, online stalkers and the list gets progressively more sinister.

Now when we consider a young child with a curious mindset and give them limitless capacity to search anything they want on the web, you’ll be surprised at what they can discover.

Now let’s also consider that when we interact with cyberspace we are under the influence of the “online disinhibition effect”. According to many cyberpsychologists (Suler, 2004), this means that because of our own self-affirming sense of anonymity online we feel that the actions we take will yield less consequence compared to our actions face to face.

Therefore, when a child is online they become even more daring and even more curious as they do not feel there is any threat or consequence to their online actions.

In short, this is a recipe for disaster.

Cyberbullying may possibly be a contributing factor to the increasing rates of youth suicide

On world mental health day (10th of October, 2019) an article was publicised by the united nations:

“Worldwide, 800,000 people die by suicide each year – one every 40 seconds – making it the second leading cause of death among young people (aged 15 to 29), the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday, spotlighting suicide prevention as the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day”.

This article is definitely alarming and gives us a lot to reflect upon. There is definitely a lot of varying factors which can be contributing to the suicides of young adults, considering the fact that this age group (15-29 years old) arguably is going through a lot of life changes; plus the unique struggles each individual has to go through.

What is even more alarming is the fact that the age range starts at 15 years of age, and this is the part I want to focus on. It is important to note that children and adolescents have not built up the emotional resilience which the average adult has already gained; through the accumulation of life experiences.

So alongside the stressors and pressure that children undergo in education, it may be possible that cyberbullying alongside this may be an additional trigger to the increase of suicide rates. When a child experiences cyber-bullying it may not be as easy to “shrug off” and “carry on”, especially when the bully is someone they have to face at school every single day.

More studies will definitely need to be conducted in order to test this claim, as there are a lot of confounding variables to consider.  The transition from childhood to teenage years already has it’s unique set of challenges alongside the risks online.

So it is more likely that cyberbullying is one of many factors contributing to youth suicides; but it is still worth mentioning as a word of caution.

The rush of dopamine may possibly be too overwhelming for younger people

There is a plethora of research which indicates that smartphones, social media, console games and even using google can stimulate your dopamine neurotransmitters.

Since all of these online tools provide you with notifications or just instant feedback as soon as you interact with any of these interfaces. This makes these devices extremely addictive even for adults.

Now for children it is my fear that they will be too sensitive to the addictive rush of dopamine as they are even more impulsive than the average adult. Due to lack of self-control, children will have a harder time taking a break from technology once they are hooked.

Some cases (although rare) have linked excessive gaming hours to deep vein thrombosis (blood clot in the veins). Essentially, the game becomes so enticing that children will start to ignore their thirst/hunger reflexes and stop taking care of their basic needs.

Don’t worry there is hope…

If you have persisted and read this far, I applaud your patience.

A lot of what I have mentioned above are the known risks of cyberspace which children could especially be vulnerable to in the future. But notice I used the word “could”.

I feel it is my responsibility to make you aware of the potential threats, but there is a lot more research to be done in the field of cyberpsychology. In essence, the internet is a social experiment to which we do not know the outcome.

I am simply making the choice of managing your expectations so that you are not blind-sighted with false propaganda which perpetuates the notion that the online world is leading to the “evolution of humanity”. It is definitely not, but technology does come with many benefits as long as you are able to mitigate against the risks.

In short, balance is key. If you are a parent reading this do not worry too much (easier said than done, I know) since it is through your presence, positive regard, and your willingness to invest time in your kids which will make the difference. You can lead through example and have an open conversation with your kids on the many ways to enjoy yourself offline as well as online.

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