Gener Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
LAST week, Grade 12 girls were expelled from a boarding school in Kapiri Mposhi for sneaking cell phones in their dormitory.
As per common rule in schools to avoid unnecessary distractions, pupils aren’t allowed to go to school with handheld devices – cell phones, tablets and electronic games. But the girls in question did not only defy the school rules, but also committed an offence by exchanging obscene materials on their cell phones.
The schoolgirls in question must have been exchanging X-rated videos or images on social media.
It seems they were surfing pornographic websites and collecting obscene materials to amuse themselves.
Apparently this became a habit, and while the school authorities thought the girls were busy studying, they were actually getting distracted with videos and images that do nothing but corrupt morals.
I suppose the girls had unregulated access to the internet on their gadgets which were always at their disposal to surf the worldwide web and also facilitate the sharing of such materials on social media platforms.
The smartphones could have either been bought by the children’s guardians and parents, or they bought them on their own from their pocket money.
If the parents bought the smartphones for schoolgirls, they must have done so knowing very well that it was against the school rules and regulations.
But why should it be an issue if parents lavish their children with smartphones and tablets to use in their dormitories? Well, there seems to be a hot debate on whether or not schoolchildren below the age of 19 should have unfettered access to internet and handheld gadgets.
The fears border on the pupils’ immaturity and the content on the worldwide web which can either be good or bad.
Those opposed to giving children unregulated access to the internet fear the possibility of them straying to pornographic websites or getting addicted to social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat at the expense of their education.
By nature, social media is addictive, the reason why employers often express concern at workers who steal man-hours on account of socialising on Facebook.
And in many corporate bodies, the traffic to social media platforms is high during working hours, which means that workers pay split attention between work and entertainment.
I am sure the information communication technology (ICT) teams could attest to this because they are privy to internet usage in their establishments.
So if workers could have unquenchable appetite for social media, what about young girls and boys who ought to occupy their minds with schoolwork?
Definitely if children carry handheld gadgets to school, they will be distracted.
And if they keep them in their dormitories at school or bedrooms at home, it will mean prolonged internet usage at the expense of sleeping and studying. Of course in this era, we can’t ban schoolchildren from using the internet because they need it to access reading materials, conduct research for their homework and for entertainment. However, children need a schedule to do this so that they don’t overuse technology to the detriment of their own future.
This is why many schools today do not allow children to carry cell phones, tablets and other electronic gadgets to school.
In some boarding schools, children are required to surrender these devices to the administration and only to request for them when they need to use them.
Prolonged usage of handheld devices and internet by schoolchildren has been a source of concern in many parts of the world because of its impact on children’s health and academic performance.
There are so many negative effects of mobile gadgets on children of different age groups, but today I will not go into those details.
What I am driving at is that when school authorities set rules to restrict children’s usage of handheld devices, parents should render a helping hand to enforce the rules.
For your information, the American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian Society of Pediatrics recommend that children aged between 6 and 12 should never have access to handheld gadgets, violent video games and pornography. However, this age group of children could have two hours of exposure to child-friendly technology.
Obviously parents or teachers (via computer labs) ought to make sure that children stick to this regulation.
As for children in the 13- 18 age group, the organisations suggest two hours of exposure to the internet, access to mobile gadgets, but as expected, forbids exposure to pornography.
The reasons cited for restricting children’s access to the internet border on the negative impact on education, mental health, social relations and physical health of the children.
According to findings by the two organisations, when parents fail to supervise children’s usage of ICTs, 75 percent of them are deprived of sleep. They stay up so late that their school grades are negatively affected.
The study recommends a total ban of handheld gadgets in children under 13 for reasons to do with radiation emission, sleep deprivation, addiction, mental illness and widespread obesity, putting them at risk of suffering from diabetes and heart attack.
Obesity comes about when children are allowed to keep devices in their rooms and they do nothing but eat and play video games or watch movies online, etc.
Similarly, prolonged use of gadgets makes children physically inactive and prone to accumulating extra pounds of flesh.
Apart from that, when children spend more time on their gadgets than they do with other people, they will become anti-social.
Actually, research indicates that addiction to mobile gadgets takes away from the process of socialising children to their norms and values. Anyway, what do you expect when a child is closer to a cell phone or tablet than he is to fellow humans?
In a nutshell, school managers have the right to restrict children’s usage of handheld devices and internet because unfettered use has consequences.
Sadly, sometimes teachers don’t receive the support that they should from parents and guardians who buy these devices for their children.
Every so often, teachers have caught children with smartphones and tablets in class or dormitories because parents feel there is nothing wrong with kids having free access to these things.
Some parents, though, claim that children pick these devices from home without their knowledge.
In my view, the best parents could do is to accord schoolchildren limited access to devices and keep the gadgets in their (parents’) rooms.
I know for a fact that the use of landline phones in many homes is long gone. Many parents use cell phones to communicate with their children at home.
Perhaps, if you are dealing with schoolchildren or those below the age of 18, a simple phone without internet access could do.
The point is, if parents don’t regulate underage children’s usage of devices or internet from home, it will be difficult for them to follow the rules at school.
Remember, charity begins at home.