Lost in Cyberspace............
When I was a kid, escapism was to be found in the pages of the Dandy or the Beezer, keeping up with the latest adventures of Dennis the menace or Desperate Dan was about the size of it. Later on the famous five and the secret seven did the trick. Of course TV then came along and a whole new world opened up in our living rooms, we were introduced to the folks on Coronation Street or closer to home, Tolka Row. I still remember the first black and white TV we got at home, it was a Murphy with a pop up lid under which were the knobs to change channel. Remote controls were a long way off back then and the couch potatoes had to stand up and manually change the station, getting at least that minimal exercise. Today we can surf the channels without budging an inch. TV certainly did change family life. Instead of talking to one another families now tended to sit in silence watching the box in the corner. Attempts at conversation were often silenced by a "SShh I'm watching this."
A much more significant invention has now invaded family space - The Ipad and the Smartphone. With these hold-in-the-hand devices we can do infinitely more than we could ever have imagined back in black and white telly days. The almighty Google is now consulted on everything from medical pains and aches to recommendations for the best restaurants. In the hands of children these seemingly innocuous devices can become really problematic, claiming hours which would be more profitably spent in real world activities beneficial for mind and body. Apart from the obvious dangers of social media sites for our young people their real danger is in involving them in a virtual world where nothing is real, which could have implications for their ability to engage with what is real.
Because the arrival of these devices is so recent we have no idea of any long term effects on young people, we are in uncharted waters, part of an experiment whose outcome is uncertain.
What does seem clear however is that parents need to have clear and certain rules around the use of these devices. A Smartphone can be a gateway to all kinds of prurient and offensive material and human curiosity being what it is children could be drawn into a quagmire.
Does any child need a Smartphone? It's hard to make a case in their favour. An Ipad can be a great educational tool, but spending hours playing games would seem an absolute waste of time. The trouble is that children get hooked on these games and attempts to shut them down can cause major tantrums and worse. Some parents give in to pressure because it keeps the kids quiet - an electronic baby sitter. It's sad to hear of some children who retreat to their rooms after hurried homework to spend two to three hours on an IPad each day. Parents need to intervene. It's great to hear that they have been banned from schools - perhaps parents could do the same?
Fr. Philip Curran