With increased exposure to the internet, often unchecked, our children stand at a risk of becoming more aggressive and insensitive. A recent incident, in Gurgaon school sheds light on growing emotional numbness among our kids. A class VII student sent his school teacher and her daughter rape threats online. The school suspended the said student and has mandated counselling for him. But this pathological behaviour, from a class VII student, is not an isolated one. With our own addiction to smartphones, internet and the social media are we starving our children of empathy and emotional support?

Too Many distractions and no policing

The increasing use of the internet among children and adults, the medium has created a realm of isolation for almost everyone. We willingly lose ourselves in the virtual world, to escape the dreariness of our real lives. But for adults, it is easier to differentiate real from virtual, and good from bad. We take precautions in our online interactions and understand what is good for us and what is not. But we cannot say the same for young adults and children. As their moral compass and instincts to sniff out danger are still in the formative stage.

Media use and attitudes report available on Ofcom, reveals 28% of 8-11-year-olds and 27% of 12-15-year-olds assume that if Google lists a website then they can trust it.

The same report further reveals that as of 2016, nearly 32% children in the age group of 8 to 11 years and 79% in the age group of 12 to 15 years, owned a smartphone.

The ownership of a smartphone means that a child can surf the internet without parental guidance. It means they can choose their friends on social networks. Plus they can also choose what content they like or dislike. Irrespective of whether it is good for them or not. As our children are still in their formative stage, it is a bit disconcerting that we choose to give them a free hand. Despite knowing how dangerous the internet can be, if not used with caution.

The cause needs a social commitment

It’s easy to put blame on parents singularly. They are so caught up in their own addiction to social media and internet, that they are oblivious to the emotional degeneration of their child.

We can only keep an eye on the internet exposure of our children, if we manage to curb and control our own.

Also, the increasing emotional numbness is more of a social cause. Hence, we all need to join forces to keep our future generations safe from the dangerous aspects of the internet. The schools need to participate more actively in both identifying and providing counselling to children who get involved in cyber crimes or show signs of digital addiction. Peers and society need to put more pressure on social media platforms, to censor content which motivates bullying, apathy, sociopathic tendencies, etc.

It is impossible to keep children away from danger in both real and virtual world. What we can do is to give them emotional support. We can make them empathetic beings, who understand what a rape threat actually means. Further, how traumatising such a threat is to the victims. Also, we concentrate so much on how to keep our children from falling preys to online bullies and predators, that we forget a possibility of our child becoming one. By paying the due attention to our children while they use the internet, and by explaining to them what they are at risk of, we can ensure, our children become neither the prey, nor the predator.

Also Read : Why Digital Parents Need to Monitor Smartphone Usage in Children

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are author’s own.

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