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The dark side of technology

While technology has opened several avenues of knowledge and entertainment it comes with its fair share of horrors. It is time we asked how it influences the young mind. NT BUZZ highlights just how adolescent lives are being transformed by media

Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ


Social media has been growing at an accelerated pace these last few years with Smartphones and various other digital devices beginning to mould children’s lives. Research in America indicates that children get onto the internet at a very young age given that access is easily available as they have tablets and smartphones at their disposal. As per reports over 7.5 million children under the age of 13 joined Facebook in 2014. The minimum age requirement for a user to register on Facebook is 18 years.

The fact is, by middle school, children today spend more time with media than with their parents or teachers. The challenges of this are many right from young people regretting their online posts, getting carried away online, to the rise in cyber bullying, sexting and Facebook depression. The choices of movies and programmes also affect children and adolescents who are pulled towards sex and violence

Superintendant of Police and head of the Cyber Crime department Karthik Kashyap tells us that, in Goa, apart from online fraud, crimes related to social media are more commonly reported.“It is mostly youngsters who have knowledge of information and communications technology and are familiar with social media who are the ones involved”, he says. Those found guilty are punished as per sections of the IPC and IT Act.

Research on the impact of heavy media and technology use on adolescents’ social, emotional and physical health and cognitive behavior is being studied. Though in the early stages still, the results emerging are serious.  It has been noted that adolescents and children spend more time watching TV than in any other activity, except for sleep. While most adolescent’s exposure to media comes through TV, internet and social media are overtaking TV.

From eyesight problems and over eating, indigestion and various stress related problems, there are many disorders linked to over use of media. Disordered eating and sleep deprivation are also common among children today.

“Using media is not physical activity. It has totally replaced physical activity and because of this many youngsters have lower resistance and immunity levels. Exercise and physical activity release feel good hormones; endorphins that help tackle daily stress. Adolescents feel increasingly frustrated and stressed and have no venting medium, which makes them fall ill often”, says psychologist and counsellor Ridhima Shirodkar.

But this is the least of the problems.  Studies also suggest that the Internet may be actually changing the manner in which our brains work. An excess of text and multimedia content has been linked to limited attention spans, lower understanding levels and a lack of focus. This effect is a detrimental as it impacts academic performance, which in the long run can lead to depression and diminished long-term memory.

Thankfully, besides entertainment, media is also a source of educational information and a large number of youngsters turn to it. Online media allows teens to accomplish many of tasks like projects, community funding, organising events and creating awareness.

“This helps foster individual identity and unique social skills. Many students today connect on social media for homework and group projects, which is something new today for us teachers, but widely appreciated as when each one is given a responsibility it gets done”, shares a college teacher, who also adds that very soon institutions will use blogs as teaching tools, which will reinforce skills in English, written expression, and creativity like in the West.

Also, internet gives youth access to information related to health, some of which may not be accurate.

Director of Sethu and developmental and behavioural paediatrician while talking about the important role media plays in the lives of young people says, “It is an easily accessible source of information. Therefore parents and teachers need to accept that media has become another ‘educator’, which can strongly influence the thinking and behaviour of teenagers. Media is a huge educational asset. Of course, there is a lot of prejudice and falsehood out there too but we should trust that young people are capable of deciding what to accept and what to reject.”

To come back to how media negatively influences formative minds let us take a look at the effect of violence (which seems to be only increasing) shown on TV. The average youngster sees 12,000 violent acts on television annually, which include depictions of murder and rape. Over 1000 studies confirm that exposure to heavy doses of television violence increases aggressive behaviour, particularly in boys that further lead to substance abuse.

Children who are emotionally disturbed, have learning disabilities, are abused by their parents or coming from distressed backgrounds are more vulnerable to the violence depicted on television. Shirodkar says that since the attention they get is generally negative in nature, either from caregivers or teachers, over time they begin to believe that this behaviour is acceptable. Hence they have a tendency to get attracted to violence and negative interactions via the media.

Also, Television exposes children to explicit adult behaviour that is of a sexual nature. It sends across a wrong message and many a times this is perceived as ‘everybody does it’ or ‘it’s okay to indulge in sex’.

In a country like ours where sex or even the concept of discussing it is considered taboo, children are left with no other option but to sneak onto internet to look for information related to sex.

Though our perceptions are gradually beginning to change, parents still refrain from imparting sex education to their children. As a result children are left clueless about the basic nature of sexual behaviour and the effects of indiscriminately practicing such behaviour.

Ridhima explains that children tend to emulate the actions of powerful models that they see on screen. This could have healthy as well as unhealthy results given that children love experimenting and may cause harm to themselves or others by copying/imitating something they have come across via the media.

“Our media is transcending and trying its best to expose people to this taboo subject. In the bargain children, who are already confused and do not have sufficient information and have nobody to turn to, feel that experimentation is the best way. But this involves many risks. The media does tend to show sexual activities as immensely gratifying and completely sidesteps presenting the risks”, says Ridhima.

In the same vein, video games, which are known to help develop motor skills and coordination, have raised many concerns regarding their negative effects. Violent video games should be discouraged as they have harmful effects on a child’s mental development.

To which psychiatrist Belinda Viegas Muller says: “I come across a lot of students who spend way too much time either playing games, ‘chatting’, often with virtual strangers, or watching movies (including porn), at the cost of their studies, developing creative hobbies and off-line relationships that would boost self esteem and self-confidence, which are so important for personal happiness.”

But, read this:

“It gives me great joy in seeing that the ‘like’s’ for my photo kept increasing till it reached the 900 mark”, says Poonam Kamat (name changed), a student.

This clearly indicates that they are gullible and perceive themselves based on their ‘friends’ judgment. For many youngsters this is the best place to hang out and get into relationships without actually knowing the person. The consequences are never thought of before giving in to random people.

Explaining the dangers of getting involved with strangers she says: “I have come across a number of youngsters who have gone into depression because they were infatuated and then got their hearts broken by people they met online – and this includes both girls and boys.”

“There is no privacy anymore”, says a parent Anthony D’Costa who goes on to explain that photographs of every party and family gathering are uploaded online by his teenage son. It could be dangerous as many people post their pictures and reveal details about themselves which can be misused by anyone using the same platform, he explains.

But all is not lost as Muller also maintains that for some shy individuals it could facilitate communication with school mates, helping build relationships that can be followed up in real life. It could also help foster language skills like reading, writing and comprehension in kids that otherwise balk at reading. Playing games can also improve mind-hand dexterity, as well as concentration.

“The younger generation is of course smitten by the internet and especially social media. It has become an infectious craze. But everything does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. It can be a positive way of getting instant information, boosting knowledge and also in keeping in touch with friends and family”, says Belinda Muller.

The best way to get young people to think about media is to develop their critical viewing skills. What do they think about what they are seeing/reading/hearing? Does this happen in their own lives too? How would they respond were it to happen? Is the news item or advertisement giving the entire picture or is it biased? What stereotypes are being portrayed? The list of questions is endless! The answers that young people come up with are likely to be very varied and interesting. If all of us can think about what we are offered through media and discuss and question it, it is highly unlikely that we will blindly accept and be influenced by what is presented.

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