Earlier parents asked their children not to be "addicted" to technology, teachers punished their students if caught carrying or using a device in school or classes.
Now, from children to adults to the elderly, "everyone seems to be addicted" to technology for different reasons. Children are using technology extensively for online classes, playing video games, doing homework, attending zoom birthday parties and celebrations, talking to their family and friends. Adults are using technology for more important activities like working from home, doing online shopping for essentials as well as non-essentials because we miss "those times and those things," from food to clothes to work-related things. Not to forget a very important usage of technology by adults to socialise, to gossip, and to stay in touch with family, friends, and relatives.
Elderly people have also started toying with a phone, sometimes successfully making calls, at other times forwarding random messages to contacts, posting updates on status unknowingly while being happy that everyone they want or love is just a call away. Adults using technology extensively is not so surprising as "being an adult" comes with its own privileges. With the elderly too, it may seem acceptable and any "minor harms overlooked or ignored" as there may be lesser interference from them if they are "occupied." With children, it's a different story.
Children before lockdown would be excited to use technology because it was entertainment for them. Play and study time, entertainment, and education time were different because it didn't involve the same thing, i.e. technology. During the lockdown, it is hard to mark the entertainment and education time for children simply by scolding or punishing them, by not letting them use it. With restricted physical movements and little or no activity outside the home, they are likely to end up doing everything from study to play to socialising through the digital medium.
It's about the mood of the child or the engagement level of the task or activity in front of them that decides if they are going to use it for the purpose assigned or for another purpose they desired. Children have little or no self-control and our bad practices and parenting is showing its damage now, thus, proving that maybe how we have been raising them is more dangerous than the rays, that punishment cannot be the first solution or the only one.
The same device can now be used for education or entertainment, and each mode can be shifted to another with little or no difficulty if there are no self-control techniques taught to the children and elderly. Sadly, most adults react to the shift to digital education and "Digi Life" with fear and frustration, with complaints that reflect onto children and they imitate the same with their life and study or all that extends to how we deal with children and elderly in other personal matters and dealings at home.
Instead of using the lens of fear and frustration when dealing with technology, be it with our own work or commitments or for our children and family, it might help to clear that lens and replace it with the lens of hope and strive to balance it all thereby reducing its ill-effects.
Many of the things we use now were at some point of time ridiculed or looked down upon with fear, be it the trains that could kill people with speed or the telephones that could give them a shock to television that could hurt their eyes to light bulbs considered unworthy of the attention of intelligent or practical people.
We, the "wanting to control" humans fear the unknown, it scares us and makes us helpless. Over the decades, as people used them more often and got used to them, they learned to balance out the positive and negative of the latest inventions in the world. They learned about the strategies and acquired techniques to reduce harm.
The previous generation preferred to let the younger generations learn and use the latest things and felt proud of their achievement. In the current situation and dealing with 21st-century children, it may feel good to say: "I am very bad with these things. The children know how to do it and use it. It's not my thing."
This attitude and approach can cause more harm than good, it can pose a greater threat to our children than cyberbullying or screen time or social media can. Our ignorance and theirs too result in them asking the wrong people about important things concerning their safety and well-being in the digital world.
It's not about trusting children and knowing them, it's about not knowing and trusting the fast-growing and evolving technology and leaving them with it, ignorant and excited. It's about children being educated the wrong way, from the wrong influences around them and our ignorance leading to their arrogance resulting in family conflicts.
Adults are better at shortcuts and quick fixes and solutions than children are. There was a time when parents were scared or unsure about giving a personal phone to a 16 or 18-year-old. During the lockdown, 7- and 10-year-olds have a personal phone because they are "at home only" and have limited physical privacy and independence, which was otherwise there in school or classes where they went normally.
To make up for that physical privacy, many parents have started to be open-minded about having a personal phone at 7 and 10 years. Yet again, with little knowledge of technology as well as their parenting technique, parents are happy to have the children around, using technology and being assured of their children's safety.
It's important for us adults to use technology, to know it, to learn more about it, to question it, to deal with it rather than fearing it. That will ensure we are better equipped to deal with its ill-effects while tapping into all the good it can offer, from skilling a child through coding to connecting the whole world, raising global citizens, who are proud of their nationality, serving humanity and raised by adults who know and teach them about technology and its fragility, balancing and mastering social touch and screen touch.
(Madiha Ahmed is an Indian Social Development Expert, working in communication, media, education, parenting, digital literacy, STEM education, gender equity, and entrepreneurship. Currently, she is a Consultant and Trainer at Dell Aarambh spreading digital literacy among teachers and parents in India)