When your children's fun activity turns addiction


A child can develop an addiction because of spending too much time gaming online. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

While online gaming can be a fantastic way for children and teenagers to increase cognitive skills, and enhance creativity, there is a risk that the child can develop an addiction because of spending too much time playing, a new study has revealed.

VPNOverview research shows there are ways to prevent, spot, and stop gaming addiction.

In Kenya, mobile phones are in the hands of so many young children, posing a challenge of online gaming addiction.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data shows that Kenyans start owning mobile phones from the age of three and with a record 44,777 devices as of last month being in the hands of children aged between three to four.

And therein comes the critical question of safety ring-fencing and security cramping.

The situation has not been helped by the deep penetration of internet connectivity, with the Digital 2022 Global Overview Report indicating that at least 42 percent of the entire Kenyan population is currently connected to the internet.

While online gaming has the potential to provide quality social interactions for children, experts argue that the dark side of it could be a costly slippery slope.

From threats such as cyberbullying and online predators to hidden costs, malware, and webcam concerns, the litany of dangers that lay in waiting for your child in the web spaces could have far-reaching consequences if not meticulously looked into.

The other risk, mostly underrated by caregivers, for children exposed online is addiction. Experts say children may be exposed to gaming from an early age; for example, by playing games like Animal Crossing and Minecraft.

As the child gets older and more advanced, they seek more challenging, engaging games to move onto.

“Internet should not take the place of social networks. Allow your child to be a child, mingle with others, and play without using devices as sources of entertainment all the time. Balance is key,” says Joan Kirera, a child psychologist and therapist.

Digital platform Mtoto News founder Jennifer Kaberi pegs the challenge on adults, especially in Africa, not being adequately conversant with the games and hence lacking the capacity to guide children on safety measures.

“In the social media space, these games are being infiltrated by bad people. Research shows that there are spaces in there where children can be exposed to adult content and they are also getting bullied. Unfortunately, because adults in Africa don’t know these games, they have no idea how to help their children to navigate this gaming world,” says Ms Kaberi.

So, how should parents go through this seemingly complex navigation?

Ms Kaberi calls for adequate digital education for children as she also appeals for more situation-focused regulations to be enacted.

“The best thing is to be able to educate our children - digital literacy. Let them know how to navigate the internet because the gamings are going to be more complex and more real with artificial intelligence,” she says.

“On regulations, the CA [Communications Authority] is doing a fantastic job coming up with regulations but implementation is a problem because most of these games are not being created in Africa, so our regulations do not apply. We should advocate for more context-focused regulations.”

Risk advisory partner at Deloitte East Africa Anthony Muiyuro squarely places the responsibility on parents and guardians saying they hold the key to what children can do, view, or download online.

“Hiding or restricting technology from children at this age will only make it worse. Parents can use free monitoring tools to monitor and restrict what their children are accessing online such as qustodio and bark,” says Mr Muiyuro.

Global cybersecurity and digital privacy firm Kaspersky advises that parents should take personal charge and be directly involved as their children go about gaming.

“Regularly play video games with your children. Gaming with your children not only ensures an accurate understanding and truly open communication, but it also strengthens your bond through shared experiences and the tacit validation of engaging with your children in their forums and activities of their choice,” writes Kaspersky.

As part of government-led efforts to ensure the safety of children as they browse through the internet, CA last month partnered with mobile games studio Usiku Games to launch a game aimed at helping children develop a critical approach towards information found on the internet.

Dubbed Cyber Soljas, the game is segmented into five levels namely cybercrime, identity theft, fake news, catfishing, and cyberbullying.

It is aimed at guiding children through a maze of potential dangers online and enabling them to protect their identity, personal data, and recognise sites containing harmful content.

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