Business Technology

Saturday 19 October 2019

'It's dumbing down society' - over 95pc of children feel anxious or depressed when wifi is switched off, social network says

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Allison Bray

If you want your child to grow up to be an anxious, ‘dumbed-down’ narcissist with poor social skills and low esteem then just keep on giving them unlimited access to the internet.

That’s the warning from Cybersmarties.com – Ireland’s safe social network for children based in Limerick – which has revealed what it calls “worrying trends among the youngest of our society in how they interact with the internet.”

Surveys of more than 80,000 children using the child-only network over the past two months confirm a growing increase in cases of Internet Addiction Disorder among users aged 7-12, according to the network’s CEO Diarmuid Hudner (44).

Almost 96pc (95.8pc) of 8-12 year olds feel depressed or anxious if the wifi is turned off in their home or their access to the internet is denied or restricted, he said.  And the number is growing.

“This figure has been steadily increasing over the last few years where, despite awareness campaigns, the access to devices with internet availability is increasing among younger children and therefore their dependency level is increasing,” he said.

The fact that toddlers are now given smartphones or tablets to act as electronic pacifiers is an alarming trend that could have lifelong negative consequences for the child’s social, mental, physical and psychological development, he said.

“Children are new introduced to the internet at a younger and younger age yet there’s a wider issue here,” he told Independent.ie.

Not only is the constant bombardment of ‘selfies’ and other forms of self promotion making society as a whole more self-absorbed and narcissistic, it’s turning children into narcissists as well, he said.

While he describes himself as “pro internet”, the former financial sector head hunter and cyberbullying expert said over-reliance on the internet as an educational tool is in fact, making children and society as a whole, less intelligent, more anxious  and more prone to depression later in life.

“Certain parts of the brain aren’t functioning as they should be,” he said. “Their (children’s) cognitive behaviour and development will be hindered over time,” he said.

“One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is they (children) never know where things come from anymore or how things are made,” he said.

“I think it’s (the internet) dumbing down society as a whole,” he said.

He is also worried that the non-stop parade of people who are seemingly smarter, richer, better looking, slimmer and more popular than their “followers” will have irreversible consequences for young children.

“If you feel ‘I’m not good enough or smart enough’ something clicks in the brain and it stays there and is very hard to reverse,” he said.

He urged parents to set limits to how much screen time they allow their children.

“This really comes down to evaluating how the family structure works on a practical level and then finding a compromise with our children. Parents lead busy lives and it is often easier to let our children have access to the internet to keep them entertained while all the work of the household gets organised than to restrict their use of it and deal with the repercussions,” he said.

“We cannot ban the internet: it is part of our lives now. What we recommend is a structured time allowance per day or per week for children to use the internet to engage with their friends, play games and learn. Children do actually like discipline in their lives, they like routine and the internet is far from bad, it is just our interaction with it which needs to be modified,” he said.

For more information log onto Cybersmarties.com.

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