Rapid advancement in information and communication technologies in terms of access and the use of the Internet, Mobile phones and social media has come with both positive and negative consequences for users.
This article is based on our conversation with Dr. Hezron Onditi (PhD), a research from Dar es Salaam University College of Education whose work looks at online effects on parenting in Tanzania Psychology.
Dr. Onditi says studies have shown that children and adolescents are the largest users of these modern communication technologies in many countries in the world.
In fact, the contemporary generation of children are identified as the digital citizens while adults are recognized as the digital
immigrants. Findings from a recent study with a total of 780 Tanzanian secondary school students (Form I –Form IV) from Mwanza and Dar es Salaam regions revealed that like their counterpart adolescents from developed countries, Tanzanian children are in the digital world.
In particular, about 5 out of 10 secondary school students who participated in the study own mobile phones, about 6 out of 10
own sim-cards, about 5 out of 10 share handsets, about 8 out of 10 use mobile phones at home, about 9 out of 10 connect to the Internet and about 5 out of 10 are connected to social network sites (e,g., Facebook, Instagram, and Whatsapp).
Surprisingly, about 50% of female students who own mobile phones said that they hide them from parents. Although students reported having academic, social and recreational benefits from using these technologies, the following are some of the negative experiences facing Tanzanian children in the online world.
Cyberbullying which is defined as the use of electronic communication technologies such as mobile phones and internet-based media to harass, humiliate, and embarrass another person was reported as a major risks faced by teenagers online.
In sharing his online victimization experience a 14-year old teenager said; some people send or post dirty pictures and some spiteful words that I had never thought of in my life.
For example, a person says something like ‘I love you!’ or ‘I want you to be my wife!’ while knowing that I am a boy. Children also reported experiencing online sexual exploitation.
Teenagers reported being lured or groomed for sex by adults, strangers or friends who they meet online. Other children further reported that even those people who cannot dare to approach them offline have the courage to make sexual suggestions online and in case you deny sexual request they start abusing you online using your private information.
Pornography and sharing of nude/explicit/revealing photos were also mentioned by teenagers as a challenge they face online. For example, one teenager said “…worse, he sends you his naked photos… others requested me to send them my nude pictures too.”
Given the benefits and the reason that the contemporary generation of children are the digital citizens, children across age levels need to be educated on how to use these technologies appropriately. More important, there is an urgent need to have a national cyberkids law and policy that protect our children in the virtual world a new social and developmental environment.
Given that technology transcends beyond geographical borders, education and intervention programmes that keep up with changes in the digital landscape and which involves global and regional initiatives are recommended.
For comments and/ or inquiries please call 116 National Child Helpline. This is a toll-free service available across all networks in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar.