By Parinyaporn Pajee
Have we lost a whole generation to the digital world? It’s a question that worried parents often ask themselves as they try to communicate with teenagers whose faces are usually hidden by a screen.
Dr Jiraporn Arunakul, a specialist in adolescent medicine at Ramathibodi Hospital, notices it whenever she leaves her office. “You don’t see teenagers nowadays walking around housing complex parks or any outdoors public area for that matter,” she says. “They live largely indoors at home or in public areas and are usually behind a smartphone, tablet or computer.”
And that pretty much sums up the lifestyles of Generation Z children – defined as those born between 1995 and 2010 – who have grown up in the era of the Internet, smartphones and social media. It’s a lifestyle that concerns not just parents but researchers too as they try to find ways of getting round the misuse of technology gadgets. The issue has become so hot that it dominated discussions at the launch of the Thailand Smart Camp project, which is attempting to pull kids away from the screen while simultaneously building a new mindset through creative activities.
Pairoj Saonuam, director of the Thai Health Promotion Foundation’s (ThaiHealth) health promotion office says that recent research based on social data monitoring by analytics firm Toth Zocial indicates that Thai kids spend some five hours a day surfing the internet – three hours more than the global average. The survey also showed that the youngsters are shifting from using Facebook to Twitter to avoid parents who monitor their life via Facebook.
According to a study by the Internet Foundation for the Development of Thailand, a non-profit organisation, 95 per cent of Thai youths are well aware of the dangers that come with the internet. Seventy per cent realise that what their online friends say is not always true and 46 per cent have experienced some kind of cyber bullying.
But getting them offline can only be handled at home, with parents making it clear that use of the gadgets they have bought for their offspring must be sparing and taking firm action when the kids don’t follow the agreement.
“The part of the brain – the limbic system – that deals with emotions is at its highest during the teenage years. Youngsters want to do things that they enjoy rather than something they don’t like such as housework. During adolescence, the prefrontal cortex, which helps rational thought, planning and impulse control is not yet fully developed. So it’s parents’ duty to be the prefrontal cortex brain for them,” says Dr Jiraporn.
Dr Jiraporn Arunakul
She stresses that the best time for setting the rules is before buying any gadget for children. “And if they break the rule, you should deal with them firmly.”
“From my experience, parents deal with children by speaking not acting and kids quickly realise that they don’t have to obey because their parents will do nothing,” she says.
Dr Jiraporn adds that adolescence clinics are full of young patients dragged along by their parents because of game addiction problems. Some are so obsessed with gaming that they isolate themselves from the family, stop going to school and become aggressive.
But just as much of a problem as game addiction is the overuse of social media, and this is showing an alarming increase. Besides the false information they consume, the positive responses they receive such as Like and Share will inevitably shape them and they will feel unaccepted when facing different reactions from the real world, leading in many cases to depression.
“The online world is an illusion. People tend to post their perfect lifestyles and we have a plethora of applications and tools that users can use to virtually transform themselves. In the meantime they obsess and feel unsatisfied with their lives when seeing their role models, usually celebrities and superstars who are always posting their luxurious and perfect lives online. Kids don’t realise that people don’t really show their unhappiness on the social networks,” says Dr Jiraporn.
“Parents have to be open-minded. Yes, it is inevitable that the kids are technologically savvy. What we can do is help them use that savvy skilfully. It’s useless to make technology the enemy. Instead we have to learn to understand it thoroughly so that kids are open when speaking to us.”
She is well aware that many parents offer gadgets to their kids without setting any rules. They hope that their children are grown up enough to know the difference between right and wrong.
Ariyapas Maneeratanasophit, 14, doesn’t have such problems even though he plays online game when he’s at home.
“I spend time online for an hour or so at home. At school, I like to play basketball during my lunch break but I know that my friends prefer to hang out in the classroom and play games on their smartphone,” he says.
And while Ariyapas has no interest in social networking, his sister Suparat loves it. But both do help their parents with the housework and are responsible studies.
“If I stay up into the night, my mother tells me that it’s my own responsibility to deal with the consequences at school if I get up late. If I break the rules on which we have jointly agreed by playing games, she will take my smartphone away as a punishment,” he says.
Suparat is just 12 but says she has experienced cyberbullying already. When she told her mother about the hateful messages she receives, the mother told her not to worry, that the person was perhaps referring to someone else and to ignore it.
The siblings both enjoy taekwondo and the classes mean that they socialise with real people and undertake activities that constructively shape their personalities.
Learning how to make soap, shampoo and dishwashing liquid is also part of the camp activities.
Isawat Pinthong, aka Kru Mind, who is moderating the Thailand Super Camp, persuaded the pair to learn meditation through dance.
“Adults think it’s great seeing kids close their eyes and meditate, but in fact not every youngster enjoys the conventional practice. So we have designed a range of activities that allow them to practice meditation through games, dance and mind-control equipment,” says Isawat.
Initiated by Danai Chanchaochai, the Thailand Super Camp project has earned support from the Thai Health. It’s taking place from October 8 to 13 for kids studying in Prathom 4-6 (Grade 4-6) and October 15-21 for kids from Mattayom 1-3 (Grade 7-9).
“It’s a good way of taking kids away from the internet and the activities will help them to develop their minds properly. It’s the good model that I hope to see it happening more in the future,” says Pairoj of ThaiHealth.
Participation for each of the Thailand Smart Camp’s session is limited to 50 young people.
Submissions are being accepted through September 15.
For more information, please visit Facebook.com/thailandsupercamp2018 or call |(02) 6102375.