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Crossing Digital Divide



Lakshmi Kumar

Recently I attended an Educational Leadership summit. Most presentations were focussed on making our classrooms ICT enabled and making our teachers digitally savvy (not just literate). There were examples put forth on how educational leaders resist digital invasion or show indifference to its omnipresence. The presentations mocked at educational leaders who in this time and age don’t check their own mails or respond only via personal assistants. The other end of this continuum is our students who are the Digital Natives; born and raised to be comfortable with social media; eat, sleep, pray technology. The challenge is to quickly catch up with our students’ advanced TQ ( I have coined this new term Technology Quotient), yet be a watch dog and disciplinarian at the same time. 

Digital Natives…they’re children born around and after the year 2000, thrust into a culture immersed in computerization, dripping with technology. Having experienced mostly a life absorbed in the digital revolution, these children – *our* children – possess a unique understanding of the world in which they live. 
While schools and colleges have historically tried their best to keep social media outside of the building and classrooms, it is clear this is a situation we cannot wish away. In order to protect our students, we need to partner with parents to help them develop methods and strategies for keeping students safe online.

Today, kids no longer play with same toys that we played with as children. The new ‘distraction’ on the market is smart-phones and tablets, something you will find in many kids’ backpacks, or glued to their ears. Kids’ using these smart phones and tablets have almost reached the addiction stage and overuse is now a growing concern for any parent. Many teens feel that it’s necessary to post pictures of them and status updates constantly on what they are doing. They also feel that it’s necessary to check what other friends are doing, too. It’s not uncommon to look at a room full of teenagers and see them with their heads down checking Facebook or tweeting

According to research, among middle and above classes,  22 % of young children own a cell phone (ages 6-9), 60 % of tweens (ages 10-14), and 84 %  of teens (ages 15-18. And cell phone companies are now marketing to younger children with colourful kid-friendly phones and easy-to-use features.

Where are they learning this behaviour initially? Kids are watching their parents using the cell phone and tend to follow their example.

While the upside to cell phone usage – safety and convenience - is undeniable, it is the down side that is over whelming. 

The down side of excessive use of cell phone ranges from mental health issues, bullying  via text messages, objectionable postings of images and MMS clippings to harass others, specially girls, eye train, poor sleep habits, dependency ( that results in withdrawal symptoms when disallowed) and lastly affects relationships. When the focus is on connecting with known and unknown “friends” via social media and not in real, these kids develop very poor social skills. 

When it comes to teens and their obsession with social media, it is a huge challenge for parents where to draw boundaries. Partly because, parents are role modelling this behaviour . It gives a feeling that we are being noticed. Thus parenting a digital native is a very difficult task because technology is far-reaching, powerful, and everywhere.  In past generations you could ground your child / student to the house with confidence that under your surveillance they would not get in trouble.  However, in this age of cell phones and tablet devices your child could get themselves in a great deal of trouble without stepping foot outside their bedroom door. 

You can't expect family physicians, teachers, child psychiatrists, law makers and those who study youth culture to monitor your teen's behaviours. Talk to them about everything that concerns them – their looks, size, colour, clothes, friends, school, college, fears, relationships, fantasies,….. only through  sharing what it was when you were growing up. 

When used properly social media can be a great tool. When used improperly, it can become a distraction and dangerous. The key is to know how your teen is using social media to make sure that they are being responsible.

Here are some observations  that may help you to tell if your child has an addiction to social media or the internet:

  • Constantly checking their phone to see if messages have come in
  • Your teen has a lack of interest in activities (other than their phones)
  • They are starting to have mood swings
  • When you take the device away they show signs of withdrawal
  • They sneak around to use the device (at bedtime, in the bathroom, etc.)
If you observe any of these behaviours you may want to intervene. It is time to lay down some rules and monitor their usage. Finding an application to help you track your kids cell phone usage can help you monitor the amount of time and which sites they are visiting. If you feel the problem is serious then you may want consult a professional. Get your kids off to the right start with technology by limiting social media and screen time and enforcing those rules from the moment you place that device in their hands.