Dr. Anand D. Awootar, PhD, D.Litt
(Chairperson, Education Commission, Mouvement Patriotique)

We need not always agree on the answers, but we may agree on the questions. And a burning question, today, is whether social media and computer games are a modern-day scourge likely to negatively affect our children. Like the Roman deity Janus, we need to look simultaneously at the past and the future in order to comprehend the gravity of the situation for it is not always what we don’t know that gets us in trouble, but what we wrongly assume we know as a certainty.

The instant gratification provided by social media and video games offers a greater risk to children hailing from hyper-protective families where life is ‘fairyland wonderful’, thriving on a cacophony of laissez-faire practices. Our brains are so wired as to experience the emotions that someone else is feeling: we are more likely to laugh when someone else is laughing, and to yawn when someone else is yawning. Conversely, we wince when someone hits his hand with a hammer. Thus, intelligence development and emotional development are children of the same womb. Emotions, thus, affect the way a child learns, behaves and reacts.

Unfortunately, the present generation of children, through addiction to social media and computer games, is being indirectly groomed to become tomorrow’s citizens with stunted mental, social, emotional and physical growth. Their nervous system gets so intimately wired to the game that they get to constantly crave for continuous distraction and gratification. This renders them incapable of having their own ‘inner narrative’ or ability to think independently because a false memory gets installed into their fractured mental landscape.

Such addiction to social media and gaming eventually becomes the rock on which our children get wrecked. However, what lies beyond the dead is often deadlier: children become self-centred, develop lower self-esteem and higher depression rates, throw tantrums more easily and frequently, communicate less and less as they torch all bridges around them. Additionally, many are awfully incapable to discuss or argue, they develop bodily deformity through prolonged wrong sitting posture, start having poor eyesight and become less sociable. These are the ones most likely to have difficulty later adjusting to family, friends and colleagues at work because their lifestyle has had no relevance to their new environment.

Yet, the human body, with its various dimensions, has been designed to function like a well-rehearsed orchestra in which each body part plays its role harmoniously.

We, helpless parents who are often unable to wean our children from such addiction, are resigned to borrow a smile to keep up appearances, sugar-coat the situation, and pretend to be happy. We shape the truth to fit our theory and we perceive only what is convenient for us to get by.

More worrying, however, is the deafening silence of most teachers in the face of such a crisis likely to assume alarming proportions. They, too, prefer to adapt tamely to the situation, little realising, however, that adaptability is but a form of damage control, not a strategy. The stories they tell themselves are often simplistic caricatures of the ground reality.

The school, on the other hand, has traditionally been helping children from even shady backgrounds to exude their sunny side. Today, however, the school is passively watching the shade eclipse the shine through institutional lethargy. It has abdicated its responsibility to be a nucleus to nurture excellence, empathy, character-building, co-operation, patriotism, and social harmony because of ruthless competition to merely master examination skills. After all, romancing the brilliant and demonising slower achievers is a much easier and more rewarding task!

Can the Country depend on a decent majority of its politicians to set the house in order? Not so sure! Many are too busy peddling honey-laced visions of a perfect society while singing, canary-like, the praise of our rainbow nation. However, the very few politicians bravely ploughing their lone furrow in their respective constituencies in order to understand, help, and empathise with the needy are but the exceptions.

Today, however, the average 8-year old will have spent many more busy hours on social media and computer games than talking to his parents in his entire life. Like children of earlier generations, today’s children need interesting, exciting, and healthy experiences through daily activities and play patterns. Activities like rambling, strolling in the open, with plenty of fresh air help trigger an astonishing sense of exhilarating freedom, a sense of engagement with nature as a daily rite, a vivid connection between mind and body.

Unfortunately, the above is an elegance at odds with the unvarnished truth on the ground: be-spectacled, pot-bellied, round-shouldered, with eyes glued and enslaved to social media and computer games, our children forge their own worlds, unchaperoned.