It is hardly surprising that the iconic founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, along with a number of other tech CEOs and venture capitalists would strictly control their children’s screen time. The prefrontal cortex of the teenage brain, that regulates behaviour and evaluates the consequences of actions, continues to develop until the mid-20s. In conjunction, the Striatum, the part of the brain strongly associated with motivation and reward is particularly active in the teenage brain. This combination predisposes teenagers to impulsive behaviour and increased risk-taking, along with a heightened sensitivity to instantaneous rewards. A fact which has been unashamedly exploited by these same CEOs, tech giants and app developers that shelter their own children from the excess use of tablets, smartphones and laptops.
Instant Messaging apps have created intense pressure on teenagers to be online 24/7, instantaneously ready to post, respond, share, comment, and like. The term ‘FOMO’ (Fear of Missing out) refers to the anxiety and stress that can be artificially generated to compel teenagers to be constantly monitoring and responding to posts. This has led to attention deficits and sleep deprivation amongst the very age category that is most in need of consistent sleep patterns. It has also led to a ‘Matrix’-style artificial reality which, for many teenagers, is more important than the physical reality around them. Their online friends and likes become more important than developing real and lasting bonds with family and friends; online recreation and gaming become more important than developing proficiency in a sport as part of a healthy lifestyle, and online conflict is now becoming the primary driver for conflicts played out on the streets, schools and parks.Children aged 11 or under have spent their entire life in the digital age. For them interacting with a touch screen was more natural than learning to walk. 54% of 0-2 year olds can swipe a touch screen with it rising to 76% for 3-5 year olds; 44% of 0-2 year olds can open apps with it rising to 75% for 3-5 year olds, and 33% of 0-2 year olds can take photos with it rising to 60% for 3-5 year olds. What is the long term effect on the psychology, character and emotional intelligence of a generation that has spent their entire life in a cyber reality? What is the effect on the self-worth and confidence of our young people when their entire self-image may be based on the number of likes they receive in an instant messaging app?
The essence of our responsibly as parents is to protect the innocence of our children. We are now facing a generation, some of whom have had their entire life online like an open book, constantly posting pictures, updates, and running commentaries on the most intimate parts of their lives. This inevitably takes away inhibitions. The concept of privacy and shame is lost as users race against one other to post the most shocking and attention grabbing media even if it be of their own selves. Many of us have made major mistakes in our youth which we would rather forget about. The beauty of Islam is the unique concept of repentance which allows the sinful to seek forgiveness, rectify their actions and rejuvenate their lives instead of being paralysed by self-loathing. Now consider how much more damaging these mistakes would be if played out online. Our young people are growing up leaving a permanent digital footprint of their activities which can be exposed years later. A far more sinister manifestation of this problem is the intense pressure on young people, especially girls, to post suggestive or nude pictures of themselves online. 60% of teenagers surveyed said they have been asked for sexual images or videos of themselves, 40% of those questioned said they had created a sexual image or video of themselves, 25% said they had sent one to someone else by text, 33% said they had sent it to someone they knew online but had never met, and 15% said they had sent the material to a stranger. These images now become a permanent digital record that can be distributed and ruin a young person’s reputation. Worst still is the criminal element. It is illegal and a serious criminal offence to take, hold or share indecent photos of anyone aged under 18, even if the person who has the image is under 18 themselves. Not only could the person be prosecuted, but they could be required by law to register as a sex offender.