Raising kids in the internet age

  • “For the supervision of children and their discipline, first the grown-ups should be disciplined.” - Dr Philip John, psychiatrist

Open your mouth like the monkey in the phone....” Feeding kids by showing them a Youtube video may be innovative, but you might be sowing seeds of a phone obsession in your child at a tender age.

“Many parents allow their kids to play with their phones to pacify them,” says Hitha P.S., counsellor at a Kendriya Vidyalaya in Kochi. As psychiatrists point out, children are getting exposed to phones not as a communication device but as a device for pleasure. “In psychiatry, there is something called behavioural addiction, where we get addicted to certain behavioural patterns. A phone offers a platform for activities like gaming, chatting or even sexting, which can lead to behavioural addictions,” says psychiatrist C.J. John of Kochi.

Dr John says parents are not directing children to other avenues of interest. “We are not channelling their energy to sports,” he says. “We don’t encourage them to read. We don’t even give them a chance to express their innate abilities and nonacademic talents.” So instead of looking for a cure after the children get addicted, parents should initiate them into other activities at a young age, he says.

Another Kochi-based psychiatrist, Dr Philip John, says addiction involves three components—distress, withdrawal and tolerance. Children with distress lose interest in studies and hobbies, and lose themselves in the internet.

Withdrawal manifests as irritability, anger, sorrow or anxiety. A seven-year-old boy who had trouble sleeping was brought to Philip John, and the mother said the boy used the internet excessively. When his father, who worked outside the state, came home, he took away the computer and after a few days the boy could not sleep. It was apparent, says Philip John, that the boy’s problem was linked to internet addiction.

Tolerance in internet usage is similar to tolerance in alcoholism. Alcoholics start off drinking limited quantities. But after some time they would need more, as their tolerance has increased. The same happens with internet usage. “Internet addiction is very similar to substance abuse,” says Philip John.

Experts note that children are getting unsupervised time with pho nes. “Supervision is essential,” says C.J. John. Besides, the child should be told that she is allowed to use a mobile phone only for a limited time. Unsupervised activity on the internet may lead to abuse because a child’s discriminatory instincts are not developed. For a child’s brain, it is very difficult to draw a line.

C.J. John cautions that the child should not feel that his computer or phone has been confiscated. “Parents should try to make children understand that the obsession is affecting them,” he says. “The child should be made to understand the need for socialising and engaging in other activities.” If not, the child will start using phones without the parents’ knowledge. Cases of children stealing money to buy phones are not rare.

For the supervision of children and their discipline, first the grown-ups should be disciplined, says Philip John. “There is a social change that is happening across our country. Our adults are on the internet all the time. Children follow the same path.” He emphasises the need for parents to be role models, and the need to have rules and regulations. And to observe children, he says. It is not through punishment that we should try to impose discipline, he says, but through firmness.

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