- Effective parental supervision can minimise risk and prevent harm
The continuous and immersive consumption of media, both traditional and digital, has had varying levels of impact on the human population. As adults, we are consistently warned about the harmful effects of uncontrolled social media consumption, how we are gradually becoming more reliant on our screens, and losing our natural inclinations as social animals.
While this can be incredibly harmful for adults, it can be much more dangerous for young minds – for young adults, adolescents, and children. The youth are still in their developmental stage; they are learning, still growing, and are impressionable to the world around them.
When a movie or piece of media comes with the ‘parental supervision advised’ warning, then it’s best that the children are actively supervised. You must help children navigate their experiences, especially to guide them in understanding what they are seeing on their screens.
Real world consequences
Recently we saw a reported incident where three young girls (aged 13, 11, and seven) ran away from home in the hopes of meeting a fictional character from their favourite teledrama (Shivanya from Prema Dadayama). Thankfully the young girls were returned home without harm.
Prior to this incident, there were reports of three teenage girls who ran away from home in the hopes of becoming dancing stars. The children were said to have hailed from strict environments and were attempting to pursue their dreams of stardom.
Speaking on both these incidents, Police Media Spokesperson SSP Nihal Thalduwa shared that it is heartbreaking to see the children’s thought process and how they had such high hopes of meeting their fictional hero or the belief of making their dreams come true. He also added that incidents such as this have been on the rise recently and that the children are not to be blamed in these cases, since it is really up to the parents to have been more alert and to monitor their children more closely.
The above mentioned incidents, while unfortunate, are fairly innocent in that they are the actions of young children who were simply unaware of the world and slightly ignorant about reality. However, there was also an incident involving the murder of a 17-year-old boy, which is currently being reported to have been caused by a dispute over a TikTok video.
This is just the tip of the more adverse effects of social media and unsupervised media consumption by children. It is not a matter that is exclusive to Sri Lanka; it is a universal concern. We recall the famous Slender Man stabbings where two 12-year-old girls lured their friend into a forest and stabbed her 19 times in an attempt to become proxies of the fictional character Slenderman.
Whose fault is it?
We spoke to Institute of Mental Health Founder, Counselling Psychologist, and Clinical Hypnotherapist Prof. Sir Romesh Jayasinghe, who shared his thoughts on the matter of children and the consumption of media, and the potential harmful effects it may have on them.
Prof. Jayasinghe stated that “it all comes down to the parents”, noting that parents are often too busy to monitor the screens that their children are so immersed in, and that they do not fully know the content of the media that their children are consuming. When in actuality, parents have the biggest responsibility to be fully aware of what their children are reading, listening, and watching, so that they can execute quality control, teach their children, and help them understand what they are enjoying.
He said that the primary concern with children consuming media this extensively is their “warped perception of reality”. “Unsupervised consumption of media, especially social media, can lead to children suffering from numerous personality disorders, leading them to suffer from delusion disorders where they believe in certain falsehoods and are unable to decipher fiction from reality,” Prof. Jayasinghe explained.
Noting that parents must act as the first line of defence in such instances, he said that they must identify when their children are in too deep and might need some boundaries set for them or even help them seek out professional help. According to Prof. Jayasinghe, what’s most important is educating the parents and teachers to act as the early monitoring system.
“The reality is that parents are so immersed in their own lives. Especially with the economic situation and the pandemic situation, there are a lot of parents who are preoccupied and simply don’t have the time to be hands on parents as they should be. There is no quality time dedicated for their children,” said Prof. Jayasinghe. He noted that while parents have become complacent, it is not to say that they are bad parents, but that they simply lack time and the awareness. He also added that much like their parents, the children too live in a fantasy world that is not reality, with TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram being their guide in life, meaning that many of them do not live lives that are well-rooted in reality.
Prof. Jayasinghe also stated that protecting our children is a team effort, so where the parents are unable to step in, the teachers in schools and the counsellors should be able to supplement those parenting roles to help children grow.
What parents can do
Addressing the specifics of what steps parents can take when it comes to monitoring and guiding their children’s media consumption, Child Adolescent and Counselling Psychologist Dr. Kalharie Pitigala shared that “parents should take the time to explain the pros and cons of screen time”. She noted that this alone would suffice, if they clearly communicate the potential harm and also the benefits to their young ones. Establishing a clear line of communication with your children is important, and Prof. Jayasinghe also emphasised the importance of creating an environment where your children feel comfortable to talk to you about their experiences, interests, and feelings.
Dr. Pitigala added: “Parents need to spend more time with their kids. When I say spending time, I must elaborate that it has to be quality time. The parents need to understand the child’s language of love and cater to that accordingly. Spending quality time and giving them sufficient attention makes them more connected to the family. Hence, the screen time would be limited.”
According to Dr. Pitigala, at present the status quo is such that parents are incredibly busy and they simply don’t have enough time to spend with their children. “Therefore, the children get addicted to social media and their screen time and they tend to personify the experience. They sometimes would even hallucinate. This would lead to numerous mental ailments,” she said.
“It is important for the child to be conscious and mindful,” she noted, adding: “Artificial intelligence has undergone many improvements, however, we need to understand the negative effects as well. Addiction causes a lot of issues. Therefore, parents need to have an eye on their kids, and limit the screen time and get them to work according to a timetable.”
Dr. Pitigala said that she personally feels that there is a need for child friendly social media apps. “Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are for anyone, however, I feel that a lot of issues could be minimised if there were strict rules where people cannot misuse the freedom of media. Child friendly social media apps would be beneficial along with parental supervision,” she noted.
It would seem that the professionals are of the opinion that parents must step up and play a large role in their children’s lives. Simply providing for them and creating the means for a comfortable life may not be enough. As parents you must also enrich your child’s mind and make sure they receive the emotional support they need to develop into a well-adjusted adult in the future.