Family Time cartoonMail & Guardian’s The Teacher has featured me twice to date. The freelance journalist contacted me in July while I was in Durban and emailed me a long list of questions. Initially I was very upset because it felt like doing homework. After some consideration and talking to the Editor, I decided to complete the questions below.

This is the complete interview links to relevant content. The original edited featured appeared in their October 2012 edition. The Teacher is circulated directly to schools across South Africa.

  1. How much time does the average child spend using technology?

A Kaiser Family Foundation reports from 2010 indicate children 8-18 spend 7.5 hours online per day. When you combine television and Smartphone growth increases, especially always-on BlackBerry or iPhone users, I estimate its closer to 10-12 hours per day or close to 50% of their time connected.

Technology increases dramatically when children are alone, either commuting to and from school, at night in their bedrooms. After a lecture at Curro School in Durbanville, Cape Town, a Vodacom employee once told me peak usage for MXit was between 11pm-2am during week days.

  1. What is ‘technology addiction’ in kids?

Addiction is the dependency on an external source of stimulus. Technology addiction is exemplified with he attachment experienced with Smartphones and cellphones in general. Teenagers identify themselves with their phones by decorating them in different covers and colours. Personalised ring tones was introduced about 10 years ago allowing people to further customise their experience with their hand-held “computers”.

  1. How can parents control the amount of time their kids spend on technology?

Parents must lead by example. After 8pm parent must start with switching off television and wifi Internet connections. When situations are already out of control, it becomes increasingly difficult to set boundaries. So confiscating smartphones after 8pm may be something you are forced to do. Children need more than 9 hours sleep according to experts. So for children in high school, a maximum of 8 hours of online access is a guideline and half that for primary school age groups.

  1. Is creating a balance important?

Balance is the key to managing stress. Elma Titus, a Cape Town-based trichologist confided in me a few years ago that more and more of her patients were teenagers loosing their hair. The result of high stress, mixed with information overload from various media constantly sends signals to the brain.  As the most sophisticated biological computer system, in extreme cases, you can experience a burnout or nervous breakdown. Balance is not easy when no boundaries exist, so start with that.

  1. How much is too much time spent on technology?

Some will say that we’re connected 24-7 because of television news channels like CNN or MTV. The simple solution is to learn to switch off your devices and make that a habit. In the same way we don’t leave a tap running because there’s a limit to the water reservoirs,  it’s time to switch off our gadgets to save electricity. Focus and concentration directly tied to natural sleeping patterns. There’s no consensus on the impact of always-on society at current because that only became a reality after broadband was introduced after 2000.

  1. When should parents be concerned that their child is spending too much time on technology?

Parent’s must be concerned when their children begin to exhibit anti social behaviour.  Playing computer games, chatting on Smartphones or aimlessly browsing the Internet for hours on end. After midnight the risks of exposure to online dangers increases dramatically. The reason it increases is the nervous system is stretched and unable to make good decisions because of a lack of rest and ability to concentrate. Simply put, when a child refuses to switch to let go of their technology during an agreed family time e.g. dinner time or Sunday lunch time, there’s a potential addiction or dependency that has developed.

  1. Kids today would rather opt for being entertained by technology, gaming, cellphones, internet, movies as opposed to going outside and having fun. What can be done about this ?

Nothing can be done to reverse this because there are no laws governing personal use of technology unless it’s driving and using cellphones for example. Children are opting for this form of entertainment because there is a complete lack of boundaries from the parents by example and from society at large. Adults are even bigger abusers of technology as they justify their dependency because of work or business.

  1. Virtual exercise is also replacing traditional forms of outdoor activities, is this a good or bad thing and why?

I’m assuming you refer to Nintendo WII or Microsoft Kinnect video game console devices. This is a natural evolution based on three decades of computer games. Please email me a clarification because I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “virtual exercises”

  1. What advice can you give parents who are losing family quality time to technology?

Even though it’ll be difficult, designate one day a week as a family day, and technology-free day. The key is to lead by example and also avoid using technology. The best way to avoid technology is to schedule outdoor or sporting activities.

  1. What does the future of technology look like with regard to its impact on kids?

There is a movement in called Transhumanism, which is the ultimate denial of our humanity. These scientist, and some very, very clever people want humans to merge with technology, so they by extension become immortal. The world of The Matrix movies is closer than we believe because of the coming Singularity. The Singularity is a point in the future estimated between 2030 and 2050 where artificial intelligence machines will be indistinguishable from humans, and more intelligent by an order of magnitude.

  1. Who is to blame for technology addiction in kids?

Parents are to blame for putting no limits on the children’s use of technology. Parent’s limit the access to alcohol and drugs from a young age until their children grow into adults at age 18 or 21 in some cultures. How can they not apply the same rules or ethical behaviour with online technologies and especially Smartphones?

  1. Are parents introducing their kids to technology from too young i.e. from as young as 5 own cellphones and ipads. Or is this necessary taking into consideration we live in a digital era?

Yes, parents are introducing children to technology like iPads at a younger and younger age. This is not necessary because computer technology in the form of microchips are built into almost every deceive from cars to your kitchen fridge. The primary years of a child is best suited for unstructured creative play.