Even if you weren't dazzled by the interactive nature of the internet when it first exploded, the majority of people were. Almost everybody devoured the efficiency of email; marvelling at the demise of 'snail mail' as messages bounced worldwide reconnecting us with long lost 'friends'. It was mentally intoxicating and we 'injected' this potent drug without caution or a second thought.
It's debatable, which had the bigger global impact - the internet or the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 90s. Martin (2010) highlighted the belief that children exposed to crack in a woman's womb would be severely emotionally, mentally and physically disabled, leaving a legacy for society to deal with years later.
Could the same be said for children exposed to this 'digital crack'? In 1995, worldwide internet use was just 16 million, by 2005 it was over 1 billion. Today, it's over 3. There's been no global change of this magnitude in recorded history. In just nineteen years, we have digitally rewired the minds of half the world's population, and there are no signs of it slowing or going back. The storage of personal data and social history online is normalised. Looking at 'the cloud' has nothing to do with the weather. Social media sites haven't even reached teen age, yet hold more of our secrets than a government intelligence agency.
Despite rewiring our minds, one constant remains. The human desire for loving connections and the natural consequences of this; children! Even when addicted to drugs, humans don't stop having children and just like the epidemic before it, an unforeseen legacy lingers.
Our children are hooked on this 'digital crack'.
Infants still in pushchairs manipulate an IPad with more expertise than you ever did; Kids have grown up with digital cameras shoved in their faces. Overzealous parents revelled in documenting every moment of their child's development to share on social media. However, the hypocrisy is rampant as parents now chastise their offspring for indulging in the 'selfie' craze.
As normal as withdrawal symptoms of crack feels to a child born to an addict, so does separation from the digital world to the children born of our addiction. Moeller (2010) showed that just one day without access to digital devices resulted in young people experiencing withdrawal symptoms similar to drug use.
Parents, institutions and teachers are no longer the cornerstones of society they once were. Do you have to accept the world's boundaries have fundamentally shifted? Children don't learn the same way they used to. In the classroom, we deprive students of their digital addiction. Confiscating their mobile phones, yet teasing them with iPads for 'educational' purposes. Then we wonder why they binge on Snapchat and Instagram when they should be doing homework. They know they aren't posting anything worthwhile too, but they need their 'fix'. Cue the arguments.
Children have questions, but parent's teaching are often outdated. The 'birds and the bee's' talk is more redundant than a used prophylactic; especially as your pre-teen probably knows more risqué tricks than you do. Turning a blind eye only increases your distress when that awkward call from school comes to address your child's 'extracurricular' behaviour. Access to information on the internet far surpasses what they learn in classrooms.
There is too much exposure too early; yet the topics concern their new and rapidly changing worlds. One minute they seek social validation, the next eating disorders, self-harm and depression and it's all there at the touch of a screen. No matter how age inappropriate you think this is, they demand to know. Was it the drug saturated environment that triggered the interest in these taboo topics or is the interest fuelled by unrestricted access to the drug?
It could be argued that we no longer possess the communication skills to garner their total respect or shortened attention. What are you going to say when your child's anxiety comes from their bad day 'going viral'? You don't even know what a 'meme' is! As we struggle to cope with their demands and their tantrums, we debate how best to re-establish our equilibrium so we can engage our children again.
Do we give in to their digital demands, (which shuts them up) or deprive them as a deterrent? Either way, we cannot win; either numb their senses through exposure or agitate them until they crave a 'hit'. In their tautological world of manufactured connection and communication, they become further immersed; engaging in behaviour you wish they'd avoid. You are only permitted to enter if you play nicely by their drug-addicted rules.
Just like the crack epidemic, some parents will ignore this. Their children may be one of the lucky few not hooked. Therefore, the issue is for other parents who need to raise their own kids better. However, you can't just protect your own.
This is everybody's discussion and everybody's legacy. We as parents, educators and members of society have to take responsibility. It might not be your problem today, however, it's only a matter of time before somebody else's 'problem' introduces your 'angel' to a Miley Cyrus twerking video or even worse.
Whilst the crack epidemic destroyed numerous inner city lives, suburban living protected many. However, this time there is no protection. Your child already has the drug in the palm of their hand. If they haven't done so already, they're just waiting to try.
Now the real question is, what are 'we' going to do about it?