Kids in the digital age

Chrisley Ann Hinayas (The Freeman) - August 18, 2015 - 10:00am

CEBU, Philippines – Thanks to technology, it is common to see children playing games on their computers, tablets, smartphones and other gadgets.

While before our idea of playing is to go out of the house and be with friends, children now stay indoors because they spend hours with their gadgets. There are even studies that connect this situation to a childhood behavioral disorder called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the symptoms of which include difficulty in paying attention and hyper-activity.

Let us just say the child is playing Candy Crush, his mind is completely drawn to the game, and his eyes riveted by the colorful display.  He is just six years old, but as he thumbs through his tablet, his mind is processing information in a different way compared to kids who spend game time physically playing. As he continues to play the addictive game, his brain is working harder and faster to absorb and process the information and sensation overload. This increases the neural activity of the brain, which would make it more difficult for him to focus on one task later on.

One sign of hyperactivity is the difficulty to concentrate on tasks. According to a professor based in New York, the kind of focus the child spends in playing video games or even watching TV isn't helpful for him to be attentive and focused in school.

When our toddlers play games using gadgets like smartphones or tablets, they release a hormone called dopamine, which is triggered when they move to a higher level, "win" over the "enemies," or unlock new characters. This hormone gives them the kind of pleasure that enables them to love electronic devices more.

It is not easy to separate the child from his excessive use of these gadgets. When matters worsen and become uncontrollable, or when kids with ADHD are bullied, the isolation and loneliness send them back to those gadgets. Thus, they end up developing an emotional dependency to their "comforters" or "companions." And this situation is going into epidemic proportions now. You can see it anywhere, anytime. Technology has already become a playful delight to most children.

The Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.-Dolores Aboitiz Children's Fund believes that parents are primarily responsible in controlling this kind of technology addiction in kids. Though it is not an overnight process, parents can start from very simple ways until their kids learn to appreciate the absence of gadgets.

Go outside.  Children are more likely not to play video games at home if they have other things to do. Take them to parks, beaches, or even museums. When they only see nature on TV or through the Internet, it does not create a sense of familiarity as compared to taking nature walks, digging in the dirt, exploring oceans, or catching insects at the garden.

Going outside can also be an occasion to engage in family activities that are nature-oriented. The family can walk around the neighborhood to enjoy the natural view, work in a garden, or plant seeds in pots. Children can be assigned to take photos of butterflies they see or draw their favorite flower in a sketch book.

Make these activities a family adventure. Play games such as how many plants, or flowers, or bugs one member can identify. Make it fun but at the same time a learning experience for your curious toddlers.

Learn a hobby.  Do you always love to learn biking or playing volleyball? Try it out during school vacation with your kids. Pick your date and start practicing it! Learning a hobby helps kids avoid boredom, especially during semestral breaks and summer time (instead of playing with computers). First, think of a hobby that might interest the kids. What are the things have they wished doing? Have they been interested in painting for you their graffiti, for example?

If your kid loves writing poems, why not enroll him in a writing workshop? Challenge your kids to learn something new or improve a skill. They could learn to paint, draw, sing, or do some exciting stuff.

Be artsy and traditional. Why not try easy art projects at home? Crafting ideas require very little adult supervision, but it can be a lot of fun for kids! Just be sure to choose the right craft project for your children's ages and interests.

If your child is old enough and skilled with scissors, making alphabet refrigerator magnets with foam letters could be a great activity for him. If not, buy the pre-made foam letters and let them stick the magnets to the foam. The real fun begins when they start building words and letters on every metal surface they can find.

You can also try making a collage of your favorite family pictures, alphabet book, or friendship bracelets with your kids. Your kids can give them as presents to their friends' birthdays.

“Tubig-tubig” (or patintero) and “sungka” are two traditional games that you surely know. Teach your child how to play “sungka.” It is played on a carved wood with two rows of small pits and two large pits at both ends called balay (base). The goal is to collect as many shells from your opponent as possible. The game ends when no shells are left in the small pits.

Join community programs. Cooking “sopas” (chicken porridge) for street children, clean-up drive, storytelling, tree planting, or house-building-there are lots of options available to do outside our homes.

Create opportunities for your kids where they can show kindness to others for them to feel the goodness in reaching out. Illustrating compassion to others at an early age let the children understand other people's feelings. One of the best ways to help children develop empathy is to get them involved in service.  Just make sure the service also fits their talents, maturity, and interests. This way, they will be exposed to real situations and would learn firsthand how to deal with them.

Be a role model yourself.   A misbehaving child likely has patterned his actions from that of his parents. It is because they are most influenced by the people whom they have the strongest attachment to and deepest respect for. Make sure the behaviors your children are picking up from you are the ones that you want them to copy. Children imitate their parents. So if their parents are stuck to smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets, they, too, would end up doing the same.

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