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Cyberphobia - Where do the Real Problems Lie?

02/08/2016 14:04 | Updated 02 August 2016

Cyberphobia is an irrational fear of or an aversion to computers, or more generally, new technologies. A term initially introduced in George Orwell's novel, 1984, many would argue this is an extremely outdated view, myself included. But when it comes to children, many adults continue to be concerned about the increasing use of technology and its effect on young people.

According to Ofcom's latest report, the amount of time children spend online has more than doubled since 2005. With 67% of children aged between 5 and 7 and 91% of 8 to 11 year olds accessing the internet, there can be no doubt that technology usage is increasing.

Parents' cyberphobia can be attributed to two main fears in particular. The first is children wasting time staring at a screen when they could be outside playing in the fresh air, which in some parents' minds is a much better use of time and way of learning. I would argue this is a somewhat redundant view and that just because parents used to play outside, doesn't mean that the same should be expected of their children. Generations move on and the activities that some parents consider to be mindless could actually be creating the passions that ultimately lead to innovation later in life.

One thing is certain; Technology is not going away anytime soon. It's already entwined with our everyday lives, and is only set to become more prevalent, both at home and work, so rather than getting children to disengage with it, we should be encouraging them to embrace it. I think the key thing to remember here is that the amount of time spent on a device isn't the problem, it's what is being viewed during that time.

The second key area of concern for parents, which is the question of online safety, is a much more pressing concern. The aforementioned Ofcom study found that only 27% of parents usually sit with their child when they're online, so it's only natural to be worried about what is being viewed when they are not around. It's true that technology plays a significant role in cases of bullying and the viewing and sharing of inappropriate content, but I would argue that the technology itself isn't the problem here. It's merely a tool that, like any other, can be misused. To put things bluntly, these problems didn't just come about with the invention of technology; they've always existed. It's the role of parents to ensure that devices are being used responsibly and that children have the necessary knowledge to use the internet safely.

We must not discount the value of technology for children as a means of gaining information rather than misusing it. The internet can be a great help with homework, or for acquiring more serious information pertaining to any number of concerns children may have. Since 2012, ChildLine has seen a steady increase of children contacting them online rather than over the phone, with 59% of counselling last year taking place online and a 28% increase in website hits since. Perhaps for this generation of young people, typing out their thoughts is what they are more comfortable with than speaking with someone face-to-face. Therefore, should we allow parental fears of adopting technology stand in the way of this when clearly children feel more comfortable expressing their concerns online?

That said, we should still be mindful that the internet contains bad information, just as it does good, and children may not be mature enough to be sceptical about what they see and do. I think this is where adults need to come in. It is our duty to direct children towards trusted portals where they can gain the information and support they need; for example, services like The Worrinots.

The Worrinots is an app with the sole aim of helping children deal with their worries. It contains trusted information and appeals to the children that go online to ask for help first. Designed to remove the initial fear and anxiety of speaking with someone face to face, children are encouraged to communicate their worries to a Worrinot character that goes about 'making the fear disappear.' Based on tested methods that are regularly used by child psychologists, the app has been designed to reduce the chance of worries becoming deep-rooted and festering, whilst avoiding any potential stigma around such issues, by acting as an aid to help children open up about their concerns.

I believe that where fears and worries are involved, parents need to communicate with their children in the way that they feel most comfortable, and rather than fearing technology, should embrace the new ways that it can help young people express themselves. This generation is one of digital natives and exposure to technology in their early years has given them a greater familiarity with and understanding than their parents. However, controversy still surrounds digital natives. Indeed, many teachers and parents are still firmly digital immigrants - i.e. people who were exposed to technology later in life and who therefore teach in the way they were taught.

In my mind, I believe that we should communicate with children in the way that they feel most comfortable and not view technology or the need to share concerns online, as opposed to via a conversation, as a bad thing, but is just the way that our society is now evolving.

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