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A virtual obsession

Judith Woods (via The Telegraph and SMH) | April 26, 2013
So news that ''iPad addiction'' has been identified among children aged as young as four struck an uncomfortable chord with me. Obviously, some children find themselves more deeply hooked than others, but surely talk of ''addiction'' is just the medicalisation of what is simply a symptom of slack parenting?

There are growing concerns about children and the impact of the online world.

There are growing concerns about children and the impact of the online world.

 

Not so long ago, my daughter trailed into the sitting room and thrust her iPod Touch into my hands.

''What is it now?'' I demanded wearily. ''Do you want me to update it or reboot it or pay for more apps involving panicky little men pursued by angry monkeys? Because, really, you spend far too much time - ''

And then I caught sight of her pale face and noticed her air of droopiness.

''Please take it away,'' she said. ''It's making me depressed. If I'm on it for too long, I feel really sad. I don't know why, but I do.''

I tell this story not by way of self-congratulation at my child's emotional intelligence. Quite the reverse - I feel ashamed that I allowed my 10-year-old to be glued to a screen for so long that it actually made her miserable.

I wouldn't allow her to sit in front of the television for that long without sticking my head around the door to vet what she was watching. When she was holed up in her bedroom, though, I knew she might be using her i gadget - but surely not for the whole time?

So news that ''iPad addiction'' has been identified among children aged as young as four struck an uncomfortable chord with me. It was reported recently that a young girl who was using a computer for ''three or four hours a day'' apparently became ''distressed and inconsolable'' when the device was taken away and she was signed up for compulsive behaviour therapy by her parents.

Obviously, some children find themselves more deeply hooked than others, but surely talk of ''addiction'' is just the medicalisation of what is simply a symptom of slack parenting? We're all guilty of treating Mummy's smartphone as a babysitter. Daddy's tablet is a godsend on a rainy day. The toddler can be kept amused on a potty with an iPad. But four hours must constitute child abuse.

Middle-class adults who wouldn't dream of allowing a television in their child's bedroom have no qualms about a state-of-the-art PC, even though their child could watch TV on it or surf for porn (a study last year showed that 22 per cent of 11 year-olds know how to bypass parental controls).

Of course, any four-year-old, or indeed 14 year-old, will throw a strop if their favourite toy is removed. But according to the experts, young people's obsession with smartphones and tablets goes deeper. So unless parents wake up to the fact that our responsibility for our children extends to the virtual world, we are doing them a grave disservice.

 

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