The internet. For me it used to be only a positive and useful thing. Until I had my daughter and more recently became a step-mum to three more children.
Nowadays, I feel passion and burden in equal measure to educate myself. And the more I educate myself the more sinister this seemingly carefree pastime of people surfing the world wide web has become.
Now, I'm not anti-technology or anti-internet. I do advocate the supervised use of internet. I find it truly fascinating how much our kids can learn about anything in the world and beyond thanks to Mr Google, his search engine friends, various educational programmes and apps available with ease.
In schools, technology has consistently been introduced in classrooms since the 1800’s. Chalkboards were once considered revolutionary and the introduction of ball point pens once described as “the ruin of education…” by Federal Teachers 1950! So the use of computers seems like another logical step.
What does concern me though? The growing numbers of children I observe in daily life, ignoring each other and their families because they are attached to smartphones. Why the concern?
For a start, the uncontrollable urge phone users have to check their phones. Studies have shown dopamine hits are experienced upon receiving a message or alert.
That's the same hit we receive when we drink, smoke and gamble.
All those things come with age restrictions. There’s no such age restriction on smartphones and they’re causing compulsion disorders in our children.
Try asking a teenager to give up their phone for 24 hours. I can't help but wonder if smartphone separation anxiety is an actual thing!!
Within seconds we can access whatever we want. From horrifying images and videos to the cutest. I recall one day a few years ago. There was a lot of press coverage surrounding Islamic State beheadings. Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, someone had posted a press release with a picture of a body and the decapitated head beside it. Directly below this, a picture of one of my friends who had taken a Snapchat photo of herself with one of those cutesy animal face filters.
On social media platforms, these vastly different images can be seen one immediately after the other. Dissonance, rewiring of the brain and desensitization. If it affects fully formed adult brains, what the hell is it doing to developing brains of children?
How are empathy levels going to change globally over the next couple of generations? Because our children are so busy with their faces in their phones, they’re not present and their perceptions of life are being moulded by algorithms and whatever they can access.
They are not learning to read body language, make eye contact or form real life deep meaningful connections. Essential social skills.
Instant gratification is King. We no longer save for luxuries or holidays etc. Why would we when we have access to credit cards and finance that allow us to be immediate consumers? Gone are the two minutes of opening music and credits in TV shows and movies. We don't wait until movies come out on DVD, we simply illegally stream them through the internet. And there are so many more examples of the instant insanity. But life is journey which includes long, hard lessons that teach us coping skills. Patience is a virtue. Impatience leads to anger and frustration and in some cases a sense of entitlement. So how will our children cope in the real world as adults?
Philip Zimbardo talks about teenage boys experiencing arousal addiction, a need for variety and change, from watching free porn. These boys are reportedly watching up to 50 clips a week. I wouldn't be surprised if it's more. And as for variety, well there's plenty of variety, swipe the screen to find a plethora of different images. They don’t depict romance, love, or even kissing. What they are learning instead is at the opposite end of the scale.
And these teenage boys are turning into young men who are experiencing erectile dysfunction in their 20's. Why? Because they can't get or maintain an erection with a real female.
I am not anti-porn when it comes to consenting adults. But this...this information frightens me to my core. Do you have a daughter or a son? I have a daughter and stepdaughter and I don't want their first sexual experiences to replicate the type of rough sex depicted in those free porn sites, because that is all their partners know. Nor do I want my stepsons to be those type of partners.
And what about self-esteem in our girls? How many are taking their self-worth from the amount of likes and shares they get on a photo? One out of 50 taken to get the best angle, pulling a duck face or looking provocatively into the camera.
(Now, I have to be honest here and I realise that it's at risk of causing some offence but when I see duck face, I see one of two things. Closed mouth duck face depicts someone egging someone else on to come fight them. It reminds of seeing girls arguing and fighting in school. Open mouth duck face...guys joke it's really a blow job face, and since I heard that, that's all I see. I wish I didn't see it that way, but that's all I see ladies! Either way...it's not natural and I don't understand it! I don't understand how it makes us look better???? And we are encouraging our little girls to pose with these duck faces).
Back to the self-worth. So out of 50, they find the best angled photo and they add a filter. It's been so posed and filtered that now they look much better in the photo than they do in real life!
And what if that photo falls short of the expected adoration? How do they deal with that? Feeling unlikeable, looking the best they can make themselves look?
Try googling hashtags on social media such as #thinspiration, #dropdeadgorgeous or #fitspiration. This is what our girls are trying to live up to. Instagram’s said to be amongst the leading cause of depression in teenagers. It’s not hard to see why.
Kids dating online? Yeah it's a thing!!! I learned first-hand that kids can consider their status “in a relationship” after a few texts with someone despite having never met face to face. I watched videos of girls being contacted by undercover adults posing as teenage boys. They strike up conversation and after a while ask the girls to come meet them in an isolated place.
These girls sneak off to meet boys they had never even seen in real life and instead are confronted by their parents. It's heartbreaking to watch these parents who could not believe that their daughters would put themselves in danger like this. These parents spoke about how they had talked to their daughters about the dangers of grooming online.
An estimated 84% of children in New Zealand have phones. But if Steve Jobs, himself, would not allow his children to have iPads or iPhones because he knew the negative effects, particularly regarding compulsion disorder, you have to wonder why so many of our young children do.
Justification seems to be the “in the event of an emergency” scenario. But couldn't we give them phones without access to internet if that was the case? And why do they need to take them to school? Especially given that schools have been around for centuries with adequate emergency protocols.
Different schools have different policies. Some encourage an outright ban on smartphones, some allow them as part of the ‘bring your own device’ to school policy. I googled “how to bypass schools internet security” and was met with an abundance of articles and videos showing me how.
So could that device instead be a laptop? Laptop screens are far easier to see and less likely to be used sneakily. And it's that unsupervised access that worries me. Because the more we allow kids unsupervised time on the internet, the more likely they will encounter all or more of these negative effects.
The internet can be a wonderful educational tool, but it comes with real dangers. We need to be prepared to supervise, we need to do our own research so we can be fully informed. This is the only way we can give our children freedom to learn and grow safely in cyberspace. If we don't, I feel like we are letting them down.