I was reading the other day that medical professionals and social workers are seeing children as young as eight years’ old — and almost exclusively girls — are suffering anxiety issues as a result of their activity on social media.
The anxiety is expressing itself by way of eating disorders — psychological conditions that normally appear in girls in their mid-teens or as young adults.
And I find this all terribly sad. And so unnecessary. And so avoidable.
What, in heaven’s name, is an eight-year-old child doing on social media in the first instance?
Am I so out of touch that I fail to understand what would possess a parent or guardian to allow a child as young as eight to have access to the world of snapchats, Facebook, Instagram or whatever other platform is out there that allows children to interact online.
I would love to see parents and children go out together and leave their phones and tablets behind. Someone somewhere needs to say enough is enough. Family time is family time. And that means no phones, no tablets, no online distractions
Have we reached the stage where parenting now means giving a child a phone and allowing them to wonder off on these platforms without any or little parental supervision. Is that now like pushing you child out the door, shutting it tight and not caring who or what they get up to when literally left to their own electronic devices?
What ever happened to children being children. Playing together, enjoying each other’s company in playtime, the fun that absorbs their energy, not staring at screens and fretting about who said what and to whom and why?
Maybe I am old-fashioned. But I think that when a child turns from 12 to 13, that’s old enough then to be allowed to have limited access to social media. And even then, that access should be limited and carefully monitored.
Now I can almost hear some parents saying that their child needs a phone so that they know where they are. Yes, there is a logic to that for sure. But there are also old-style phones that have limited access to web applications but still allow parents to keep in touch with their children when necessary.
An adult world
The next time you’re in a shopping mall or anywhere where families gathers, watch and you’ll see both parents on their own phones, and the child or children on their own devices or tablets. This is parenting in our modern world, where no one talks, no one communications, and family tensions are highest when the batteries are low or there’s no wifi.
Social media is an adult world. It is a place where hurt is abundant and hate is commonplace. And what on earth is a child doing in such an environment? Would we place our child in danger by allowing them to play in a kitchen full of boiling pots and sharp knives?
Every reasonable person would say ‘no’. But give them access to a place where there is boiling rage and sharp barbs, all thrown around with such ease, and parental logic and guardianship goes out the window.
Are children not old for long enough? Is it really too much to ask that parents make every conscious effort to keep them young for as long as possible? Maybe I’m naive, but have we lost sight of the true meaning of family and childhood?
I would love to see parents and children go out together and leave their phones and tablets behind. Someone somewhere needs to say enough is enough. Family time is family time. And that means no phones, no tablets, no online distractions.
Just soaking up the sheer simple pleasure of being a family together. If that lesson isn’t learnt and appreciated now, just imagine what their communication skills will be like when they’re trying to communicate when they’re older.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe