Education Matters

Just hiding in plain sight

May 16 - 22, 2018

Gulf Weekly Just hiding in plain sight

How many of us as parents give our children access to the internet and the various tablets and android devices that allow children to access it on the go? I know I’m guilty of it, I can recall countless times in the British Club, happily talking to friends while my nine-year-old sat in the café with his friends enjoying a variety of online games, writes Chris Fenton. 

I knew where he was, I knew what he was doing and I was fine with that. At the time it was Minecraft, Roblox and other such things but then along came Five Nights at Freddy’s and Logan Paul on YouTube and the internet began to take on a whole new meaning for him and his groups of friends.

Just like every generation has a ‘thing’ that is cool and that parents don’t quite understand, so the internet and its infinite possibilities has become the ‘thing’ of this generation of tweens and teens like never before. 

The expectation when visiting a new venue, for example, is that it will have free Wi-Fi and when friends are around, I don’t how many times I found myself struggling to read out the purposely confusing series of numbers and capital letters that serve as the Wi-Fi code for their children. 

This is all fine and life moves on and so on and so on but the blind acceptance that the Internet is there and, therefore, we need to be connected at all times is just odd and people are beginning to question it.

The dangers of this blind acceptance are also beginning to be highlighted since when something becomes a norm, by proxy it becomes accepted and when things are accepted, they go unnoticed. 

This is how children are getting away with watching inappropriate material online and how the companies who produce it get away with it too. 

The danger is hiding in plain sight because the sight of seeing children staring at screens has become socially acceptable, principally because their parents are too. 

One of the main groups questioning the phenomenon are educational psychologists and staff in schools who are noticing first-hand how behaviours are changing, particularly amongst children who have large access to unmonitored internet use and particularly in primary schools. 

One of the most significant areas of concern, however, is how the content that children might be aware of or have access to online can impact on the behaviour of students who may have burgeoning and undiagnosed mental health or social issues. 

I frequently hear stories of children acting out the images they see on their screens in real life in the playground or school classrooms. But the real issue here isn’t that children have access to the Internet or that parents aren’t motivated to turn on the parental controls, it’s the acceptability of it all and the fact no one, particularly schools, is questioning that. 

Like smoking in the 1940s and 1950s became acceptable because it was the norm, the rise of screen-staring I believe will ultimately lead to similar health issues and then a campaign to ban it or reduce it will begin, but that, of course, will be long after the horse has bolted.

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