KAMPALA — Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digital adoption —with statistics showing that more than 175,000 children go online for the first time every day – a new child every half second, a report by UNICEF has indicated.
Experts, however, indicate that this massive digital access exposes these children to a wealth of benefits and opportunities, but also to a host of risks and harms, including access to harmful content, sexual exploitation and abuse, cyberbullying, and misuse of their private information.
Mr. Collin Babirukamu, the Director E-Government Services at the National Information Technology Authority – Uganda (NITA-U) has warned that online platforms are also a source of pressure for children giving an example of teens who feel the need to post ‘attractive’ content that would be ‘liked’ by others.
“No safe haven exists for children in a digital world, cyberbullying can continue once content is posted, deleting it is often impossible,” Babirukamu said, also noting that over exposure to screens and gadgets can cause cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity, tantrums, obesity, sleep deprivation, addictions, aggression and anxiety to children.
“Over exposure can also cause digital dementia – high speed content can cause attention deficit, decreased concentration and memory. These are children who can’t pay attention, cant learn”.
“In terms of what parents are up against, this is really quite significant.”
Babirukamu was renewing calls for parents to limit their children’s screen time to one or two hours per day.
For kids under the age of two, any screen exposure he said is discouraged.
“Screen time” refers to the entire arsenal of electronic media: TV, computers, videos and video games, tablets and cellphones.
New medical, brain-imaging studies show the importance of interaction with other people to a child’s brain development.
Studies indicate that talking to a child, even infants who can’t yet speak, is enormously important.
Doctors break down children’s development down to three stages: in the womb, childhood and teenage years.
At each stage, medical studies have revealed that children’s brains react and change according to social stimuli.
Babies even show recognition of songs they could only have heard before birth when their mothers sang them.
Later, in the early and later childhood years, any lost opportunities for brain growth and development are lost forever.
During teenage years, the brain lays down neural pathways and networks.
Many are permanent patterns that will determine how a person uses talents and skills later in life.
Babirukamu who was speaking during that the Institute of Certified Public Accountants Uganda (ICPAU) annual meeting themed “Leadership for transformation in a dynamic environment” urged parents to be good role models.
He suggested that parents can provide healthy alternatives such as sports, reading, presence to gadgets.
‘Encourage family and social time that is gadget free. Teach the value of face to face communication and apply authoritative parenting, the most effective parenting style to your kids’ tech use”
He said authoritative parents are loving and highly engaged in children’s lives
He said 14 -16 years is a recommended age to allow them have a smart phone.