Narayan Prasad Ghimire

“Baba, why did you forget to buy a new mobile phone for mother even today? It has been long she has been using old phone set, since the day she her set in the water tank. She has not been able to even use Facebook for such a long time!”

This question by my six-year old son took me by surprise as I reached home early last Friday. Do you thing he was sympathizing with his mother that she was unable to get connected to internet? You too might have been perplexed with

such moments created by your children- the digital natives.I had no option but to respond to the situation with seeming concern “You’re right. But, why is she not so interested to have a new set? I also think she needs to replace the old phone immediately as it is not functioning properly.

“Then, the boy pummelled this thighs exuding happiness- the happiness associated with his entertainment out of watching cartoons and playing games on the smart phone. The example I’m sharing may serve well that if there is anything most challenging for parents these days- it’s the upbringing of the children in this digitally pervasive age.

No doubt, the digital natives are several time smarter than we people who were born in the rural areas that saw very few modern technological gadgets. The radio, that too we turned off as the English news came, was the one for in-door recreation. But, these days, football, badminton, hockey and other big games have been the indoor games, all played on computer and mobile screen.

Therefore, gluing to digital screen is gradually becoming a commonplace affair irrespective of the place- village as well as the city- we’re living in. Compared to the rural children, the children in the crowded cities are more susceptible to the overuse of digital devices. Anyway, thanks to the technological development and expansion, and the invention of global nervous system of communications, the internet, we are privileged to have in this age.

Not only the children and teenagers, even the adult parents are found glued to the screens for playing candy crush and temple run, among others. So, hasty generalization and blaming the children is almost biased. However, it is safe to claim that those with fragile and tender psychology must to be brought up in a salubrious atmosphere.

The world of internet is a vast ocean. It is an open university. Whether for communications, commerce or study, the internet is indispensable. A world without internet is almost unimaginable now. So, at a time when the 52 percent of the global population is connected to internet and the rest are striving for it, showing only negative sides of internet and digital gadgets is unfair.

However, in view of the growing and sensitive age of our children and oodles of contents that pop up on the screen within a second, digital hours must be checked and regulated, so that they can grow up in a good digital environment. Needless to mention, internet has become a part of life and avoiding children’s contact to it is almost impossible. Completing school homework to solving class works, internet is allowed and encouraged, but with proper safety measures. Growing in good digital atmosphere is therefore children’s rights at a time when the global advocacy had already begun for the recognition of internet freedom as a human right.

In Nepal too, internet has been increasingly becoming a hangout for teenagers and youths. Are they exercising their right to expression and information in a safe atmosphere? Are they involved in healthy online behaviour? Are they not facing any risk or misbehaviour in the cyberspace? News reports in media suggest that cyber crime is growing alarmingly in Nepal involving teenagers. It indicates that time has come for us to think about it seriously.

With growing excess to internet in Nepal- 62 percent penetration , it must be a matter worth reflecting. Debates and discourses must be generated extensively. Similarly, policymaking bodies must be aware and bring forth policies on how the interaction of children with technology and digital devices can be made safe and beneficial.

In this connection, a publication of a handbook (Nepali language) on ‘Internet and Its safe Use’ produced by Freedom Forum, can be a good resource for the teachers, parents and common users to educate children in safe digital environment. The handbook written by Ujjwal Acharya and Santosh Sigdel talks extensively about what the internet is, how it evolved, its use and significance, national and international laws and policies on internet and related infrastructure, risks in cyberspace and methods to remain safe.

Children can not be stopped from using internet and technical devices, but timely and proper initiatives must be taken to create safe environment for their healthy upbringing. Preventing children from using internet is the violation of their right, while creating healthy atmosphere is responsibility of the guardians. It means time has come for reform in traditional parenting with the provision of modern technology friendly environment.

In this connection, Devorah Heitner, writer of a book, ”Screenwise: Helping Kids to Survive and Thrive in their World’,’ and the expert on how young people interact with technology and digital gadgets, makes frequent updates on children’s interaction with mobile phone, computer and internet. She argues, “Though devices complicate the social sphere, you can see that at base, the issues are the same as they’ve always been. This is why I repeat the mantra over and over again: Mentoring Over Monitoring. … Trying to control the technology is a fool’s errand—it changes too quickly, and your kids will always be ahead of the curve anyway. However, good, strong mentorship is the best way to help them learn how to manage their relationships—online and offline.”

Source: The Rising Nepal, Friday Supplement

Date: March 23, 2018