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How gadgets are turning your children into zombies

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In many Kenyan homes, during the holiday season, children are glued to gadgets, for hours on end.

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There is pin-drop silence in a typical Kenyan home. The four-year-old lastborn is glued on the TV watching her favourite cartoon, the pre-teen is on the house phone watching a popular US-based make-up show while the older teenage brother is hooked on some online games.

A mother, back from work at 8pm, frantically knocks on the door but nobody answers. After several frustrating knocks, the house help emerges from the bathroom in a huff and opens the main door.

“How come none of you opened the door yet I have knocked for hours,” the mother complains.

But the children stare blankly at her like she is from another planet.

“We did not hear you knocking,” the trio echoes back innocently.

That is the typical scenario in many Kenyan homes during the holiday season as children are glued to gadgets, for hours on end, oblivious of what is happening around them and it is now a cause for concern. Schools have closed and young ones are at home. Instead of playing and socialising with their peers as is expected, they are glued to gadgets, from tablets to laptops and smartphones.

Unlike in the past when children would play themselves dirty on vast playgrounds during the holiday season, now things are different and it is worrying experts.


Children are exposed to the internet early today and fail to learn social skills.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Juliet Gikunda, a child psychologist, says there is a serious problem that needs urgent attention. A study published last month by the Pew Research Centre, indicates that about 38 per cent of teenagers in the US acknowledge that they spend “too much” time on their smartphones and social media platforms. The same scenario applies in Kenya.

“So serious is the issue, teachers have taken it upon themselves to sensitise parents on how they can ensure meaningful use of technology by their children,” says Jane David, the manager at Golden Eagle Schools, in Mlolongo, Machakos county.

With easy access to smartphones, tablets, PlayStations, TV, teenagers opt to immerse themselves in screens as their busy parents are busy ‘hustling’.

Safety concerns

“It is dangerous when we give our children too much freedom to use our gadgets and go online but we do not monitor their activities hence exposing them to safety issues,” says Gikunda who also manages Karai Children’s Vocational Centre in Kikuyu.

Ms Gikunda admits that though times have changed and parents cannot stop their children from using technology, but they can ensure they use screen time meaningfully.

There is a need to define boundaries as technology use has its advantages and disadvantages, the experts cautions.

Guided, children can use gadgets meaningfully

 “We have noted that the children are spending too much time on the screens, they are becoming socially awkward, withdrawn and want to have their ‘me time’ with their gadgets, and when you invade their privacy, they become aggressive.”

“When you check parent’s WhatsApp, TikTok and Facebook status, you find teens and youth speaking their minds and expressing their emotions. It is like they are crying for attention. If there was a safe space at home where they could pour out their feelings and be listened to, they would not be all over social media,” says Gikunda.

Yearning for affirmation

Teenagers and adolescents are posting their pictures on social media sites to seek affirmation and validation from strangers.

“This is dangerous as we have seen instances where teenagers have committed suicide because they were cyberbullied through negative comments on their social media posts,” Ms Gikunda observes.

Cyberbullying causes mental instability in children, which manifests in symptoms like anxiety attacks and withdrawal.

“In a bid to cope, some fall into drugs, become anti-social, get depressed and experience lack of sleep or too much of it. Parents may notice a different behaviour pattern in the children and for some, if medical attention is not sought, they might end up committing suicide.” Owing to the pressures of life, many parents are finding themselves too busy to parent their children.

“We have a lot of non-involved parents, whereby 80 per cent of them have delegated their duties to house helps.

online kid

We need to ensure that children are protected as they navigate the digital landscape safely and responsibly.

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 “You will overhear them asking, ‘Wamekula? Wameoga? Wamelala? Ati wameenda kucheza? Wanaona TV? (Have they eaten? Have they bathed? Are they asleep? So, they have gone to play? Are they watching TV?”

Non-involved parents will go home late and tired when the children are already locked in their bedrooms with their gadgets, she says. But there is a danger in that casual lifestyle.

“The children may be facing attacks online while their parents are not aware.”

Owing to their parents/guardian’s busy schedules and lives, today’s teenager has found a ‘loving community’ on the social media space where they ‘socialise’ with strangers that they call ‘friends’ on Facebook and TikTok.

This gives the minors a false sense of belonging, which is dangerous as it involves exposure to drugs, sex abuse, alcohol and unhealthy competition, Ms Gikunda warns.

Social media pressure can drive teenagers into debts and petty theft as they seek to buy data bundles to stay online.

If they lack money, they get moody, and anxious and, can easily slip into depression and mental breakdown.

Juliet Gikunda

Child psychologist and counsellor at Karai Children's Home in Kikuyu Juliet Gikunda.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

Teachers have also noted that extended screen time is affecting speech and character development in children.

“Parents are too busy with their lives, and house helps are also busy on social media sites thus exposing young children to too much television without play and interaction which is delaying the speech of the under three-year-olds,” explains Mrs David.

Notably, the negative effects of gadgets on children spills into adulthood, causing more concern.

Reports indicate that Generation Z (generation born from 1997 to 2012)  cannot cope in the job market and many companies are having a hard time employing them or offering them an attachment due to poor work ethics.

 “I meet a lot of frustrated managers because youngsters are not delivering on their duties. You give someone a task at 8am, and by 3pm, they have not have even delivered because they are on social media sites. Their work ethic is off, when you dig deeper you find they were addicted to gadgets in their teens,” shares Mrs David.

Experts are now challenging parents to step up their parenting game and take charge of their children’s lives before it is too late.

Positive impact

Despite these negative effects of screen time, the internet can positively impact teens’ education outcomes.

The use of technology has made learning easier, especially in the Competence-based Curriculum (CBC), Ms Gikunda points out.

At the Golden Eagle Schools, a fully-fledged CBC primary, and Junior high school, children are making use of technology to advance their learning outcomes.

Jane David

Jane David, the manager of Golden Eagle Schools in Mlolongo Phase Three in her office on 8 April 2024. She says the use of technology enhances learning outcomes, but parents need to guide children on responsible use of screen time.

Photo credit: Millicent Mwololo | Nation Media Group

“The CBC curriculum of education that our school runs on is integrated with technology, we have a computer laboratory from where learners do their own research with the supervision of the teachers,” explains Ms David, the manager at Golden Eagle Schools which runs the CBC curriculum from Pre-school to Grade Eight.

The children also engage in online learning through the use of smart boards.

Technology plays an important part in nurturing creativity talent and innovation in young children.

“Last term, our Grade Eight learners developed a perfume whose idea was conceptualised from an online a research,” Ms David say.

The learners generate an idea and share it with their teacher. This has seen their teachers also come up with innovative ideas to cut on the costs of study materials required in delivering the CBC curriculum, she adds.

There are teens who have been able to do different innovations using their gadgets, others have been able to nurture their talents, such as content creators and fashion designers, Ms Gikunda says.

Indeed, the positive side of technology usage by children outweighs the negative side, the only challenge is that the negativity has a greater impact on their future, warns Gikunda.