By Lyonel Doherty
(Okay, now bang head against wall.)
That’s a common reaction when trying to limit your child’s time on his/her cell phone or iPod.
But guess what? You’re not alone.
That was evident in the documentary called “Screenagers” shown to the Oliver community this week.
Countless parents are fit to be tied and stressed to the max in their challenge to regulate technology that has literally taken over their children. It’s almost like a hostage situation.
In fact, some children are so hooked on technology that their behaviour mirrors a drug addict’s ranting a raving for a fix.
Screenagers, shown at Frank Venables Theatre, was a wake-up call to parents and teachers who deal with this addiction every day.
The film shows how much teenagers use their electronic devices for texting, chatting, and gaming, and what the experts are saying about it. According to some, all this multi-tasking on smartphones negatively impacts cognitive thinking and academic performance. It also impacts their ability to verbally communicate directly with others, where eye contact and vocabulary are important.
Sadly, a lot of children use their cell phones to avoid potential conflict and anxious situations where they have to resolve problems. It’s their getaway car.
The other sad fact is that their empathy (understanding and sharing the feelings of others) flies out the window.
Karen Sinclair, principal of Oliver Elementary School, was disheartened to hear laughter from students when the documentary showed a video game clip of a pedestrian being punched in the back of the head. The female character crumples to the ground and is repeatedly kicked by the perpetrator, controlled by the gamer. More laughter ensues throughout the theatre as the woman’s head is stomped on.
It was stated that the US military developed shooting games for soldiers to desensitize them to violence and prepare them for war. The same is happening to children who play these games, according to some lawmakers who have tried to ban titles such as Grand Theft Auto.
Screenagers follows the lives of several families whose children are addicted to electronics. One parent bought her daughter a smartphone and drew up a four-page contract outlining the rules and regulations regarding its use. Well, it didn’t take long for the girl to start abusing the privilege and breaking the rules. The problem was the contract was too stifling and didn’t have the girl’s input. The parents subsequently rewrote the agreement with the daughter’s involvement, which appeared to result in better compliance.
In another family, a young man was addicted to video games and would spend every night practically glued to the screen. It got so bad that he dropped out of college because he was failing. His mother said she hugged him and all she could feel were the bones in his back; he was so thin and unhealthy.
The young man’s sister said it was like her brother didn’t exist anymore because of his addiction. The family enrolled him in a rehabilitation centre where he was treated. After some time, he got better and rediscovered his talent for playing the piano.
The documentary highlighted how many parents are also controlled by technology, yet they expect their children to “do what I say, not as I do.”
One little girl who was interviewed commented on the fact that mommy would be checking her phone every few minutes while she was trying to talk to her about something.
Another girl in high school really liked this boy, who asked her to send him a photograph of her – in her bra. So she did. But the photo was shared with other students in the school, which was devastating to her. Needless to say, it was total humiliation.
So how do we protect our children from technology?
We spoke to local teacher Samantha Dunlop, the district’s health promoting school coordinator. She said it’s important that parents educate themselves and stay updated on new research coming out.
And talk to your children, she pointed out.
Explain how addicting these devices are and set guidelines and stick to them, knowing that your child will need some adjustment time.
“Screenagers is just the beginning of a long conversation that students, parents and communities need to partake in. Each little conversation will start the engine, which will drive knowledge and knowledge will lead to enlightenment,” Dunlop said.