By Francis Ewherido
There is a short video of a white mother who is exasperated with her children’s phones and social media activities that has been trending on social media: “I hereby denounce the effects social media have on my children…” Ordinarily, parenting is a long, winding road on a hilltop, no dulling. Social media just complicated parenting by adding storm and wetness to the long winding road.
In those days, parents locked their children indoors and in the process shut out external contact and influence. I remember my mother’s specific instructions: do not go to anybody’s house without my saying so and do not accept food from anybody, and if you do, you must bring it home. The instructions were cast in stone and those who disobeyed paid dearly for their disobedience. But they did help because they reduced external influences. And parents could mold their children the way they wanted to a large extent.
These days; if you like, put your children in the cave or underground. As long as they have phones, they can even “date” and get engaged to somebody they have never met physically in another continent. Before the advent of mobile phones, parents were complaining about the invasion of foreign cultures via television and the negative influence on their children. But parents still had some control: they could use parental guide to determine the TV programmes that were available, they could control when their children watched television and they could decide not to acquire decoders which gave access to many television channels.
But with a smart phone or android, the world is a real global village. Now our children can travel round the world via phones and have access to virtually every site they want to. Handsets have also become addictions. Family bonds are being broken; children are becoming more individualistic; they can be holed up in their rooms all day without a dull moment. You hear them screaming, laughing and giggling and they are all alone. Hitherto, only insane people did that. Parents call from morning till night and all they hear is “mummy, I am coming;” they never come.
Some children are neck deep in the world of pornography. Even adults cannot handle pornographic addiction, so children stand no chance. There is cultism and devil worship online; we also have cyber bullying and teenagers have been forced to commit suicide over cyber bullying. Teenage lovers have also been lured online into committing suicide for “love.” It is a very complicated situation and many parents the world over have simply lost grip of their children.
So you can understand the frustration of the mother in the video. Many parents today feel the same way as this mother. The only difference is that we might not use/have guns to shoot our children’s phones and use an axe to smash whatever the gun missed, as this mother did. But we all need to take action. I have always believed there is a time for everything. This is very important in parenting. We must know when our children are mature enough to handle certain gadgets, information or situations. Bring it on too early and you can upset the critical balance in a child’s development.
Specifically, on phones, I do not believe children should own personal phones until they are out of secondary school. Now some parents argue that they buy phones for their children in secondary school to enable them reach them when they are not at home. Great, but if you have good rapport with your children’s teachers, you can reach them via the teachers’ phones. Also, many of these children go with school buses and you can also reach them via the drivers while in transit. At other times, have a floating phone in the house, which can be given to any of your young children on outing to enable you keep in touch.
That way, you can monitor what they did with the phone while away when they get back. Some parents buy phones as expensive as N150,000 (or higher for the Apple iphones) for their children! Meanwhile, their drivers, who take the children to school, earn N50,000 per month and they know the value of the phones your children are carrying. Do you not think you are inadvertently making your children targets of attack or kidnap?
I worry about phones even for adults. Many women’s lives now revolve round their phones. Addiction to phones has replaced addiction to soap operas. They are permanently on their phones; no time for their husbands and children. Many men with free time have also taken refuge in phones. The only people who can spend so much time on the phone are retirees and old people, not working class people with a trailer-load of bills to pay. Also, people who earn their living from the social media can spend a chunk of their time on the phone.
In addition, people who add value to their lives with the mountain of information on social media can also spend reasonable time there, but they must balance knowledge acquisition with taking action on the knowledge acquired. Beyond that anybody spending all day online for entertainment purpose or running away from his problems via heavy usage of social media is no different from people taking refuge in alcohol or drugs. They are all addicts. The challenge now is how can parents who need help themselves guide their children on proper phone usage?
Do not get me wrong, the advent of mobile phones is a huge blessing to Nigeria. Mobile phones are good, you can run your business from anywhere in the world, get all the information you need at the tap of the button and it is just getting better with more applications being added.
But mobile phones are double-edged swords; for all the good that come with them, there is a dark side: They are dream stealers, dream killers and very addictive (these days, some people cannot have any meaningful meeting unless phones are kept away). There are also health issues due to radiation. Unfortunately, it is not just our children who need help, we the parents also do. Let us apply restraint before we all tip over the cliff.