Brave Conversations organiser Leanne Fry says children must be taught how the web should be for the good. Kamal Kassim / Gulf Today
Mariecar Jara-Puyod, Senior Reporter
While some may express hallelujahs at the aptitude of their little ones on the web, a consultant paediatric neurologist for over two decades has raised concern and stressed that children, in the continuing aggressive development of the Internet and the social media, must be re-directed to where they would reap benefits so as not to harm themselves and others.
Like recent UAE visitors Intersticia director Anni Rowland-Campbell and Smart Humans director Leanne Fry, Neuropedia Children’s founder Dr. Arif Khan believes that character and behavioural aberrations are going to be addressed if and when everyone becomes responsible on the ownership and management of the World Wide Web from the simplest content monitoring to data and privacy securitied to legislation.
Intersticia is a global philanthropic organisation that operates from the UK and Australia and supports emerging stewards. Smart Humans is an entity which conducts programmes that empower people to become smarter as they use technology.
Khan, who grew up in and returned to Dubai after 15 years in the UK, mentioned on Friday that children’s unregulated exposures to the Internet and social media unsympathetically affect their yet-to-mature prefrontal cortex-that which is responsible for their cognitive/reading functions-resulting in mental and emotional disturbances.
He enumerated the over-exposed children’s exponential susceptibilities – insecurities, inability to build friendships, depression, obsession, fake lives, low to nil self-dignity and self-worth due to heightened comparisons and inability to cope: “In spite of the benefits with connectivity and knowing the world better, the use of the social media, especially in kids younger than 10 years of age, is quite alarming.
They have lower interest in studies and seem more irritable and aggressive. They grow into sad adults prone to exhibit extreme behaviours like anger issues, panic attacks, or nervous breakdown because they do not understand social cues or understand human feelings. They are cut off from the real world.”
On the increasing notion that the Internet is the nanny that allows family members to attend to other concerns; that this helps hugely towards intellectual progress aside from the perception that “traditional schooling seems outdated,” and that teachers are no longer much needed, Khan stressed: “We can get information in a flick over the Internet, but without studying basic concepts, we would (be unable) to filter out what is correct, relevant, and useful.
Just reading through various sources of information about numerous things will not help build a career. Determining how and when that information is useful is integral to learning. Without a teacher or a mentor, the linear plan of education and the connection of knowledge to build a bigger picture is impossible.”
He pointed out how crucial it is for children to study, the consequence of which, other than critical thinking, is emotional intelligence, towards responsible adulthood and service: “That is why children need to study even though everything is available on Google. To read or process the information, they require the basic skills of language, maths (among others); the more they study, the wider their perspective grows, and they can analyse all the information from a different angle.
Additionally, knowledge without guidance can be destructive. The minds need to understand what they are reading, and they should learn basic skills. They will be unable to learn to collaborate with others, empathise, and have emotional intelligence via the Internet.”
Rowland-Campbell and Fry brought their “Brave Conversations Hall” at the September 28 to 29 “International Government Communication Forum” in Sharjah: “We teach people of all ages how the web came about; how it develops; its strengths and weaknesses. We teach them how to work out for themselves what is good or bad about the web and apply that to their own lives.
Our youth must understand this. The sheer scale of what we can do on the web and the essentially unregulated nature of it means that the online environment we engage with is constantly changing, frequently driven by companies with motives.”
They are pleased that the Sharjah youth participants are knowledgeable of global concerns such as the necessity to switch off from the web at any point in a day, food wastage, and health.