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A parent purchases books from a street vendors ahead school opening. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]
I’m just sitting here trying to remember what I was like in Standard Four, you know, trying to recall whether 10-year-old me was thinking about boys or toys.

I think I’d have to go with toys because one, I was a late bloomer, and two, the Internet was not a thing. Those were the days when television programming started at 4pm and ended at 12am.

And in most houses there was an unofficial 9pm watershed. So basically, once the news began you knew screen time was over.

On rare occasions, you would convince your folks to let you watch the Bold & the Beautiful or the weekend movie, but that wasn’t really the case for me until I was in Standard Eight, and even then it was still a negotiation.

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It was at that time, age 13 or thereabouts, that I started to have a romantic awareness of boys. Most of my ideas on the subject came from young adult romance novels like Sweet Valley High and Mills & Boon.

My imagination was somewhat restricted by the thoughts and ideas of the authors, and given that we were living in a heteronormative world, never once did I encounter a book that featured same-sex relationships, or any other type of sexual relationship for that matter. It was all very bland and predictable.

That was a much simpler time, and yet our parents still thought we were being overly influenced by the books we read, music we listened to, and programmes we watched. Older folks still viewed us with a ‘children-of-nowadays’ befuddlement.

Content creators

And yet, our exposure was pretty darn limited especially if you think about the kids who are growing up in the current digital age.

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As a teenager, for instance, my imagination was paddocked by a finite group of content creators. More than that, accessing that content was much more of a chore than it is today.

I couldn’t just ‘speak to Google’ and command it pull up videos, like my five-year-old has learned to do.

There was no such thing as ratchet reality television. You couldn’t stream free porn. Watch lewd music videos on a loop. Join terror groups.

Play strange games on the dark net. It’s a jungle out there, and in this age of information, where a lot of kids have a phone and an Internet connection, there really is no telling what they are getting up to.

Parents have two choices, either eliminate Internet screen time altogether, or become the web police, constantly monitoring what your kids are getting up to.

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That said, it came as no surprise when a video posted by a young man — I’d say he was 13 or thereabouts — went viral this past weekend.

In the video, he goes off on a Standard Four girl because she called him gay. For more than two minutes, he uses every bad word in his 13-year-old vocabulary to insult her, even going so far as to make a death threat.

Bad-word vocabulary

Now see, when I was 13, my bad-word vocabulary was severely limited. Saying the ‘f word’ would leave me feeling like the baddest lil’ chick on the block. But in this day and age? The ‘f word’ is garden variety vulgarity, so basic that a 13-year-old boy can use it with reference to a 10-year-old girl without flinching. 

The boy went on to apologise to the public, and then to withdraw his apology based on some of the reactions he was getting from adults on social media.

He was doing all this via live broadcast on the Instagram application, which to me was an indication that he wasn’t really thinking about the consequences of any of his posts. Posts which the Internet will never forget.

As for the 10-year-old girl? She probably gets her cues from the same digital world the boy inhabits. A world where the lines between the public and the private are blurred, and the boundary between childhood and adulthood is no more.

Many people have blamed the kids’ parents for absconding their duty to raise good children — or indeed to raise them at all — but I’ve got to tell you, bringing children up in this day and age is trickier than it has ever been.

Even the best parents are having a tough time deciding what their children can be exposed to, and a harder time still monitoring the information that they do consume. It’s a full time job in a world where parents don’t have enough hours in a day.

Makes me long for the days when children had to work extra hard to corrupt their good morals. These days, that corruption is a click and a bundle away.

Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation Africa

Strange game Internet Julie Masiga
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