Information Overload could be creating clueless mini-adults

Back when there were no laptops and internet, one had to go to the library and to research and make notes when one had to do a feature. It was a task to sift through all the information to write a 1500 word article. Going through the sheets of facts and figures and quotes, my head would reel and I would end up writing a feature that exceeded the word limit just thrice over! Then would follow hours of writing and rewriting (remember there was no computer at home?), till I got the piece whittled down to the desired length. Whew!

I must have been clearly afflicted with infobesity and infoxication — two terms I found in Wiki while looking up information overload – the difficulty a person can have understanding an issue and making decisions because of too much information!

If an information overload can befuddle adults, what can it do to children? And no, I am not talking of information related to learning per se. Even discerning parents who keep an eye on the reading and browsing habits of their children can be lulled into complacency because useless or inappropriate information is soaking into their young minds and finding a fertile ground for thriving, along with relevant material and skills. Much of this information could be beyond their capacity to process. Unfortunately, many parents don’t realise this.

In an earlier post, I had talked of precocious kids of the ad world who mouth big things to bemused adults. But they are very much there in the real world too. A classic unanswerable question of who is corrupting whom.

Information and Knowledge are often used interchangeably. Much like a degree is considered synonymous with being educated. One wonders if information can ever  be a substitute for knowledge, leave alone wisdom, as some parents would have us believe.

‘It is so difficult to fool  children these days. They check everything on Google!’ say the proud parents. What is even more vexing is the way these children are praised and patted by the parents for being so smart and wise. And that rings alarm bells for more reasons than one. I have no problem when children are called smart, intelligent and well aware, but wise?

For one, when doting parents praise them disproportionately,  the children sometimes end up thinking that they are superior to others and expect the same kind of adulation from the outside world. And when it is not forthcoming, they get confused and lose confidence. I won’t even begin talking about how it breeds smug and haughty children.

Have you, like me wondered where innocence has gone in today’s children? Well, it is all gone because of information overload. It hurts me to see young ones burdened with so much information which they are trying to make sense of. And yes, I include the most intelligent children in this group.

As for investing young children with ‘wisdom’,  you might have heard of the knowledge sequence. This is how it goes:

Data>Information>knowledge>wisdom.

Which means that wisdom is only reached at the end with the application of the knowledge gained through information.

Sometimes I am alarmed at the kind of things children have access to and seem to know without having the capacity to process the information they have in order to reach the last stage – wisdom.

Let us forget the internet and Google for the moment and talk of another source of information – the television.  Is there any whetting of what children see on TV? I remember the TV show Satyamev Jayate which dealt with social issues. I am told it was watched by the entire family, including small children and got rave reviews on blogs, media and social media platforms.

Some of the episodes were meant for the entire family, especially the one on CSA, which talked about the good and bad touches and taught children to speak up and seek help from parents if they were touched inappropriately. A programme on cleanliness and hygiene, or one on recycling waste are fine too as they make them aware citizens.

In an increasingly open society, it is argued that Indians should take off their hypocritical blinkers and be open about sexuality among other things. While I am not arguing about the merits and demerits of this statement, I am old fashioned enough to feel that parents of small children (of say, less than 10) have to take a call on programmes that are beyond their age.

It annoys me when parents, especially mothers explain – to a 2-year-old – in great detail the reasons for their actions. For heaven’s sake! The child is too young to understand the pros and cons of your action and is mighty confused about who is the figure of authority here! All he or she needs to know is that mother is telling her something and she should listen to her.

This has to slowly change as the child grows older, but the amount of explanation should still befit their age, just as the freedom they get increases with age.

Coming back to the said TV show, the one on female foeticide would have been on my list of PG for older children, but not to be shown to very small children at all. Incidentally, it was the very first episode, I think. and with all the publicity preceding it, the entire family must have sat around the idiot box to watch it.

I really can’t understand how a small child can process this kind of information. While it is the most horrific thing to kill a foetus just because it is female, it is not a straightforward case telling about a certain thing like good and bad touch or water conservation. There are so many shades to it – the social angle, the moral and ethical issue of taking a life, women’s rights and so on. I wouldn’t classify this topic broadly as ‘information’ to be made available for consumption for very young children.

I am all for sensitizing children about the miseries of the world, the inequalities that abound around us, the crimes that take place – especially those that could impact their safety and security, but I also believe that such information has to be carefully given to them, in age-specific ways so that they are not traumatized by it. Some information can wait till they grow up a little, when they can begin to process the information in ways that they can understand. Simply exposing them to everything saying that they are ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent’ or that the parents are ‘liberal’ is the most foolish thing to do.

Often too, parents and others in the family discuss such programmes after they end. Or when some event in the neighbourhood has occurred and it is being discussed, peppered with personal opinions about the people concerned. These value judgements will be imbibed by the child in addition to the gory images they saw on TV. It is a great temptation for parents to pass on their value judgments to their children and they are biased in any way, the child grows up with a biased viewpoint.

Let us consider a scenario where the family has a pregnant woman visiting them. The little boy or girl who has learnt about female foeticide looks curiously at the woman and depending upon how precocious or reticent he or she is, comes up with one of the following questions:

  • ‘Will you kill her if it is a girl baby in your tummy?’ – asked directly to the woman.
  • ‘Mummy, is the aunty going to find out if she has a girl baby in her tummy and then kill her?’ – whispered in fear.
  • If she is a particularly shy and introverted child who does not voice her fears, she might retreat into her shell, thinking all kinds of confusing and gory thoughts.

I might have given an extreme example to illustrate the point but I firmly believe that like everything else, information needs to be fed in limited and required quantities in age appropriate ways.

Do preserve their innocence and let them be children instead of trying to turn them into mini adults – and confused ones at that!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Images: Homepage-  AME Info

9 comments

  1. You touched a nerve here.I am always in doldrums when it comes to this topic. How much is too much is a big challenge for parents our generation. For example with the teen, I speak almost everything to him. I do the duties of the dad as well as the dad won’t discuss certain topics. The reason I do is, I don’t want him to search stuff on the internet and be overloaded with info. The same thing with the younger one. Like her curiosity about religion right now. I many many kids her age don’t even bother about such stuff. I don’t want her to be a mini adult yet not sure how much I am turning her into. There are many areas which I am least interested and her head is loaded with stuff related to that. I hate technology, the internet and all of it together at times.

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  2. I agree with your thoughts. We have to be careful to expose our kids to age-appropriate content and information. Unfortunately it is beyond our control at times. Even very young kids are made to dance to raunchy item songs at schools and none other than by our teachers. Also with both working parents there is often precious little that parents can do in terms of supervising. The best strategy is to hold back in exposing them to sticky topics for a long as possible. These days it is difficult to watch movies with kids. Eden those meant for them are sometimes having content that is not age appropriate.

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    1. You are one of the discerning parents I have talked about in the post, Rachna 🙂 Parents have to only give proper guidelines to differentiate between right and wrong for slightly older children but have to clamp down for younger ones, who can’t be expected to choose or even be allowed to choose. I agree about the so called children’s movies these days too.

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  3. upasna1987 · · Reply

    This is one of the reasons I wish to quit my Job and be able regulate what he is watching, reading or doing.This is so dreadful. I feel reluctant when he insist me to play songs(with F*** and theka and whisky…. words) rather than poems. I myself does not prefer the reality based programs as they trigger negative thoughts. Why watching them again and again when we already know about it. Rather than watching, we should do something about it. We never watch anything on TV together except cartoons and that too, if non-violent and with less-glare (like hose Chinese bright light emitting cartoons). O God, how can I control that. I need help here. Its so depressing to imagine him watching such things.

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    1. Hey Upasna, relax! There is no need to panic. There is nothing you can do to stop the world around you playing or listening to vulgar lyrics or seeing inappropriate stuff. By doing things together that he is interested in, you can make him reduce the TV watching or spending time listening to things you don’t approve of. Quitting your job should be an option that you can afford and desire. Doing something that you might regret later can create more problems after a while. I remember my DIL teaching my granddaughter to sing one song that had sala in it, by changing it to bala. The little one, who was two at that time, used to correct anyone who sang it as sala insisting that her mother was right 🙂 Just an example. You can use your imagination and ingenuity. Activity done together is another way of keeping him engaged. Let them be messy, creative, whatever. But doing something with their hands makes them less fidgety and tires them out, just as physical activity does too. Keep singing or playing fast numbers that are harmless and fun. There are any number of those. Children pick up things fast and who knows, he will teach his friends those good songs 🙂

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  4. So happy that you wrote this post.
    If as an adult I find myself loaded with information how much more for a child? Google and the internet as a whole is a boon for the present generation when it really can clear away some of the silly doubts that one had as a child but it can also lead them to other info which may not be age appropriate.
    Our daughter came upon female foeticide from her school text book..I think it was 7th standard. She was shocked that such things existed in this world even at that age so imagine if she was younger?
    But I think there is nothing much one can do since the present generation is supposed to be well versed with smart phones etc, yet I think as parents one can always put our foot down and let them into it with parental guidance. No smart phones too until a certain age?

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    1. A large percent of responsibility lies with parents who have to be firm and act like parents, not be too lenient with children who can wheedle or bully their parents to get their way. That is why I stress so much on age appropriate information. When it is freely available, one should try to soften it and make it easy for a child of that age. If your daughter was upset at 12, what about children of 4 or 5, which had formed the viewership of the programme on foeticide? Sometimes I feel old fashioned parenting where parents give age-appropriate freedom is the answer to this ticklish question.

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  5. It is really good that you wrote about this topic, Zephyr. We really are living in times of information overload, and it can be absolutely difficult for a child to process so much information that is so easily available at the click of a touch, but for which the child doesn’t yet possess the necessary mental development to process. And oh I agree completely with this mind-boggling confusion that has been created these days about information and wisdom! Even knowledge and wisdom shouldn’t be mixed up, I think 🙂 Knowing something is not same as living something, no matter how high the philosophy is, only when we live something we gain in wisdom, methinks!

    Reading your post reminded me of some of the practical advice the Mother of Pondicherry Ashram gave for young children, about gently disciplining them, about being very cautious of what kind of things they are exposed to, etc. In fact, she was very particular about this exposure thing even for adults. The more we see/read/hear/are exposed to harsh, violent, crude, ugly, painful realities, the more we hardened we tend to become. It is not about avoiding the harsh truths of life, it is about tuning our mind differently I think, so that we are not ‘sucked in’ by the crudity and vulgarity of so many things around us. But these things come by practice and by living, by experience. Children who are so sensitive and innocent should be doubly protected from such vulgarity and ugliness of life.

    Thank you for writing this!

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    1. It would be wonderful to read specific words of advice by The Mother on choosing wisely while taking in information. Yes, many adults are clueless too when it comes to information – what is good, bad or unnecessary. And when parents themselves are not sure, how can they regulate what their children are taking in?

      In the name of open society and being open about sexuality and other matters we are filling impressionable minds with a lot of garbage. As Rachna points out, even schools promote it by making children gyrate to vulgar lyrics which are hits today.

      And yes, knowledge is only the third step in the sequence before reaching wisdom, so they are not synonymous at all except in general knowledge or academic learning.

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