Smartphones, those double-edged swords

Technology is a double-edged sword. Never has this been more obvious than when it comes to smartphones, those wondrous mobile gadgets that go everywhere with you and keep you connected to the rest of the world.

Ironically, it also has potential to create ‘disconnect’ during social gatherings – family members with eyes glued to their mobile screens, is an all too familiar scene during family dinners.

And it also begs the question, what is it about our mobile screens, that makes us glued onto it almost 24/7, and be the first thing we reach out to when we wake up.

Grown ups have an excuse – there are work, social and leisure reasons to interact with their phones.

But what about the 6 to 18 year olds? What else besides school, homework, exams and after-school activities should they be worrying about?

Peer pressure

You may be thinking, What nonsense, you had to endure peer pressure and bullying at their age and you turned out fine.

But bullying and the urgent need to fit in with the other kids, is the number one reason that children undergo an emotional rollercoaster on a daily basis and fall victim to older predators, among other things.

These days, this bullying phenomenon coupled with technology sees its debilitating effects become amplified, pervasive, and perhaps worst of all, constant.

The twenty-something-and-above generations never had bullying, or peer pressure this bad.

The cyberbullying effect

According to national surveys that have been conducted annually the past 4-years, the issues keep mutating year-on-year. These surveys are commissioned by Digi’s sustainability division, Yellow Heart, which among other things, wants to promote digital inclusion as well as digital resilience.

Digital technologies and its benefits should not be contained only to the privileged segments. However, the effort to spread its usage to more segments of society should come with education on how to maximise the benefits and minimise the negatives.

Hence, Digi’s digital resilience programmes that aim to educate the younger generation on safe and responsible use of the Internet.

Digi’s Head of Sustainability, Philip Ling said, “It used to be just verbal bullying. Now there are behaviours like exclusion, for example posting a picture up on social media and not tagging the victim to that picture but tagging everybody else in it.”

He also shared about sub-tweeting, the act of bullying without actually saying the victim’s name.

Thanks to technology and social media, the methods of peer oppression are getting more ‘creative’ and they also enable oppressors to exert their will even though they may be half way across the world.

One notable example is the spate of Blue Whale suicides that appeared in the news early last year. A suicide group used social media to goad teens to complete a series of tasks over a period of 50 days. Ranging from daredevil stunts to self-harm, every single task was expected to be visually documented and shared on social media, with the last and final task being to take one’s own life.

A total of 130 suicides across Russia from 2015 to 2016 were suspected to be caused by this sick online game. And because of the boundaryless nature of the Internet, parents all over the globe have been on high alert.

Kids these days

I reiterate, the ‘twenty-something and above’ generations never had bullying, or peer pressure this bad.

Those who have become parents or guardians are clueless at best, about what the minors under their care are going through.

Ling shared that according to the survey, parents find it hard to customise Internet content for their kids, don’t realise content should be age-appropriate, or what content is appropriate.

In summary, they are simply overwhelmed.

Ling pointed out, “Rules (about mobile device usage) are usually time-based, but they are not content-based. So, kids are consuming whatever content, and behaving online without supervision.”

He also shared that bullied kids are vulnerable kids, and this makes them very susceptible to being taken advantage of by older predators.

Mindset shift, please

Above all, he pointed out that grown ups have to shed the mindset that bullying toughens up children.

If we could stop viewing bullying as a rite of passage that everyone has to go through, perhaps we would be more vigilant about our children’s activities especially on the Internet, because the World Wide Web is definitely not a level playing field due to the anonymity it offers unsavoury characters with unsavoury intentions.