Too much chatter, very little conversations
Excessive use of cellphones poses a risk to children.

Dear Editor,

It is so difficult to impress upon the world that there is poverty in Jamaica. People are astounded by the architecture of our homes. Beverly Hills in the US pales in significance when matched up against Jamaican homes.

When it comes to dressing, Jamaicans are the best-dressed people on a revolving globe. Not to be outdone is their love, use, and acquisition of top-tier gadgets.

What alarms me most is that the people who have the trendiest and most expensive cellphones are the young people who do not work. The question that begs to be asked is: How do they acquire such?

Recently I observed a group of elementary schoolchildren heading home from school. There was about seven of them walking together and each was talking but not to each other, and the phones I saw them with were not “bangers”. In some cases they were more modern and seemingly more expensive than mine.

People are not talking to each other again, neither are they listening. We have become a cold nation. This generation is not skilled in conversation. This conversational incompetence is glaring and interpersonal skills are of the past. I make a living talking to people and I look for cues to measure responsiveness. It is very obvious to me that even the attention span of students in the classroom has diminished. I had a great, engaging, inspiring, conversational childhood, but these days, even to converse with family members in the same building is done by phone; no wonder people’s hearts are waxing cold.

This cellphone crave and craze has caused a good number of people to end up in jail cells. For the life of me I can’t understand how parents would endanger their children by going to great lengths to buy them phones but will not pay their school fees or get them the tools they need to excel in school.

I was reading a Nielsen report released in February 2017 which states that approximately 45 per cent of US children between the ages of 10 and 12 had their own smartphone with a service plan. Seems they are running behind the Jamaican stats because, according to a Pew report, the number of cellphones in Jamaica is equivalent to 111 per cent of the total population. Digicel and Flow are squeezing Jamaicans sour, but they don’t mind buying phones, minutes, and data, even at the expense of food. Jamaica could very well balance their budget by placing a tax on talking (speech tax).

Parents ought to be aware that equipping their vulnerable children with cellphones comes with great risks and the negative consequences seem to be outweighing the positive.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns against exposure to radiation from cellphone usage; risks of obesity (due to sedentary screen time); decreased sleep; and distractibility, contributing to poorer academic performance. Students seem not to be using their own grey matter because of overdependence on Mr Google.

I would like to use this medium to start a national conversation and to also extend an invitation to parents to monitor phone use among their children. Restore the good old days of family togetherness by eating together, worshipping together, and even studying together.

When you limit phone usage, you are limiting distractions and this will minimise cyber bullying, sexting, and the ravenous exploitation of your young ones by phone predators. Some of these kids are slicker in the use of these gadgets, but don’t let them outsmart you, arrest those phones at nights and ensure they are going to bed at reasonable times so they can wake up refreshed and mentally repaired to face the new day. Parental monitoring and control is key in safeguarding the precocious and vulnerable.

Let’s save our children. Lets get back to talking again (not on the phone), being better conversationalists, and making society a more people-centred place to live. Save your children from the harm by early monitoring of the cellphone.

Dr Burnett Robinson

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