Pew Research: Most Kenyans fear mobile phones reducing children to moral wrecks

Smartphones are popular with kids but what are they doing with them? [Stock Image]
According to Pew Research Center report published early this year, Kenya is among the leading nations in smartphone adoption across the continent, with the number of users being more than 41 million users as at the end of 2018.

This is a 25 per cent increase from five years ago. Interestingly, most of these smartphone owners are young people in their teen ages, those in their early 20s.

This demographic has grown up in the hyper-connected world, which the parents or guardians are still learning to adapt.

The researchers noted that a majority of Kenyans believe internet and mobile phone usage have a negative influence on children.

Mobile phones are not necessarily harmful to children but parents must know who is being talked or what's being watched. [Stock Image]

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The study explored social media and smartphone use in selected emerging economies and established that approximately 67 per cent of Kenyans are concerned about children’s exposure to harmful content through mobile phones.

At the same time, 46 per cent of the parents who participated in the study indicated that they monitor the usage of the mobile phone by their children and try to control the time these children are using the devices. Alongside the concern on the harmful impact on children, a majority of respondents pointed out the negative effect on morality and physical health.

 “Across all dimensions measured in the survey, the publics in the 11 countries are most negative about the impact of mobile phones on children,” read part of the report.

In particular, morality and health stood out as key areas of concern, with 40 per cent of the participants indicating that the increased usage of mobile phones harbours a bad influence on the young people’s morality and physical health.

While some Kenyans found that internet access and smartphone could be useful in social connectivity, accessing educational resources and business opportunities, most expressed concern over the children accessing harmful content.

Although it may look familiar, cases of parents, teachers and guardians bumping into harmful and irrelevant content in their children’s phones are common. 

Judy Angwenyi, a teacher in Nairobi is particularly disgusted by parents who give their children their phones without monitoring how they are actually using them. Last year Judy was particularly dismayed by a group of class four kids who had huddled in some corner of a classroom, all eyes on a phone.

Upon scrutiny, she found out that the children were viewing pornographic content. When asked to explain whose phone it was, the child owner said that he had borrowed the phone from his father to play games.

 This prompted the teacher to summon the parent to her office for some straight talk.

“What I saw on that day really disturbed my mind,” says Ms Judy.

Pastor Boaz Musembe of Naioth Gospel Assemblies also reports a similar incident where children abscond from Sunday service to watch videos or play games during church service.

 At one point, he decided to follow up during child service to find out what the teens were up to.

To his dismay, they were watching porn, a matter that prompted him to spearhead a counselling program on the teens.

“I could not imagine that such an incident can happen during a church service but when I encountered it, I noted that the root problem was the parents who allowed them to have phones without monitoring what they watched,” Pastor Musembe told this reporter.

The innocence of children must be protected from negative digital content. [Stock Image]
A cyber café owner in  Nairobi’s Umoja 2 estate, who cannot be named in order to order to protect his son’s identity,   found some peculiar internet searches in his pre-teen son’s computer:  teens kissing, condom use, kissing, big boobs, beautiful girls in Kenya and love letters.

“I immediately knew something was not right and immediately installed a password and initiated a series of discussions with his children on issues pertaining to sex and relationships, the harm, age factor and addressing all the questions they had”

A Pumwani Hospital nurse (name withheld) had a bitter confrontation with her husband of 18 years after noticing what her last-born daughter, aged only five was watching.

“I became curious to know what the child was looking at since she was so immersed in it unusually. Upon checking, I was astonished to find out that she was actually watching people doing adult things in her dad’s phone”

“This is when I confronted the father to tell me why he was putting such content in his phones and worse allowing the kids to watch them.

 To her amazement, he claimed to have no knowledge on this content and that it might have been sent by some WhatsApp user in one of the WhatsApp groups which he belongs and that he didn’t have time to check all the videos that had been downloaded in the phone gallery.”

Animated games

Peter Mutua’s once caught his niece playing an animated game on the internet where a player was required to hit the buttock of a cartoon with a paddle.

The animated cartoon was a bare, white woman’s ass while the paddle was an animated one.

Each time the user swung the paddle at the buttock, the cartoon could emit the sound of a woman moaning.

“What was interesting about the animated images was that there was no upper body or face visible in the game. However, I was sure that it was a woman’s buttock because it was attached to shapely and beautiful looking legs,” says Mutua.

The prevalence of online porn means parents must use passwords to control children's access to computers. [Stock Image]
According to Pastor Boaz Musembi of Naioth Gospel Assemblies, Nairobi, parents are squarely to blame for their children’s misadventure with phones and the internet.

 There is no way children can be addicted to phones or computers without being allowed to use them by their parents. Pastor Boaz further says that it is important for parents to restrict phone and internet usage by their kids, otherwise, they will come to regret later when the worst happens.

“When children become notorious for accessing pornography, violent games, or other inappropriate content, it means the parents or guardians have failed in their responsibilities,” he says.

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