Goolbai Gunasekara knows all about kids who are obsessed with computers

I realise that we’re living in the era of high tech; it’s the age of the computer and anyone who is not computer savvy is being left behind, trying hard to make sense of what people around them are saying and doing.

This general bewilderment at the rate of change is carried over into a person’s travels. Staying in hotels – however expensive – necessitates some knowledge of modern technology even to make coffee, which is done in one’s own bedroom.

But I also realise the grave mistake modern parents are making when they put a computer in the immature hands of young children, and wonder why they’re not more outgoing and interested
in what is happening around them. Some parents have boasted to me that their children are completely absorbed by this ‘toy of the 21st century.’

They tell me with pride that their child is totally familiar with his computer and spends hours with it. ‘Think of what he is learning,’ they tell me proudly.

Need I even say that the parents cannot operate a computer themselves for if they did, they’d know that their bright little offspring is playing computer games, watching videos and using Facebook. He is certainly not occupied in the search for knowledge.

As time goes by, the child grows up and probably visits porn sites in addition to all
else. His life revolves around his computer and smartphone, which his parents have foolishly provided him with. In the meantime, his parents have no idea what he’s up to as he switches screens as soon as one of them enters his room – it’s naturally closed and maybe even locked.

His social life gradually grinds to a halt as his only ‘friends’ are on his computer. Doesn’t he make friends in school, one may ask? Yes, he does but I’m giving you the worst case scenario where a youngster eschews all human contact, preferring instead the impersonality of his computer.

I have had such cases and I know how long it took to alert parents to the lurking dangers.

At first, his withdrawal from class contact was noticed by the form teacher. It took a little while to find the cause. After all, one doesn’t know what goes on in his home. His withdrawal could be related to parental issues, which the school cannot ask about. Eventually, I read an article about a child displaying similar symptoms and I had a possible answer to the dilemma!

The youngster under review was 14. He eventually needed psychiatric care to help him relearn how to relate to people. His world of reality was the computer – deprived of it, he could hardly function and retreated into an isolation of the mind.

Of course, this is an extreme case but it must act as a wake-up call to parents who are allowing their children unlimited access to computers and smartphones. Very few accept the warnings of a principal and until the matter reaches a critical level, the youngster’s passion for his computer is regarded as a harmless pastime. So you can imagine my reaction to the claims of parents who proudly say: ‘My child is so good on the computer.’ Such statements are certainly not greeted with delight. I want all my students to be able to cope with the modern world but I certainly don’t want them to turn the tools of the modern world into shackles.

Can parents do anything?

Of course they can. Firstly, they must heed advice. Secondly, they must use their common sense, which seems to take a backseat when dealing with a bright child.

Common sense should tell them that when a child remains in one place for three hours at a stretch, something isn’t quite right. Another signal is when the standard of schoolwork drops alarmingly but the child is still glued to his computer. A third warning sign is when there is no interest in playing sports. The lack of exercise leads to future health issues, to say nothing of a listless performance in the present moment.

I have suggested the following courses of action to sensible parents. Regulate the hours of computer usage. It must be used for schoolwork of course but check if that is being done. And leave the study room door open.

Unsuitable viewing can be stopped. Some leeway may be needed for allowing games to be played but strict time frames must be adhered to. There are inbuilt computer controls that can be used – I think they’re called ‘Net Nanny’ or something like that. And finally, have a serious chat with your child and teach him the ethics of computer use.

Computers and robots are indeed the future of the world but let’s take a warning from the movie Her where a man falls in love with his robot who is beautiful and has a lovely voice. Computers and robots are becoming more and more like ‘Siri’ – they speak in either male or female voices. The new robots and computers blur the boundaries between AI and reality.

Parents… put up your guards.