Like other social changes, technology has positive as well as negative implications for society, with effects on parenting, child-parent relationship, and inter-spousal relationships. These can be viewed vis-à-vis the “challenges” that it portends, as well as the “prospects” that it promises for the family in today’s Africa, especially through the dimension of social media.
The challenges in parenting stem from the fact that children are more abreast of technological development even more than their parents. This is more so, given the fact that today’s African children were born in an age where their continent is eschewing conservatism and accepting modern technology. Parents, therefore, may not know as much as their children when it comes to ICT so that children become ICT “teachers” to their parents. The parents are consequently unable to regulate the “open-ended cheque” that technology presents the African child. Aside unbridled access to immoral resources like pornography and its attendant manifestations such as masturbation, children are also prone to get enmeshed in anti-social networks which influences the course of their life.
As evidenced by various research, younger persons are more adventurous than the old. ICT presents children an opportunity for adventure in typically unafrican ways. Video games have become another major area where technology has impacted on parenting in Africa. The orientation of the video game (e.g. competition, intelligence, creativity or violence) conditions children’s psychology, such that they are more disposed to certain behavioral tendencies, including aggression and violence. In line with the “isolated” nature of the child’s nuclear family, technology also produces an “individualized person” different from the “community orientation” for which Africa is known. This undermines the quality as well as quantity of social support that can be available to children and how well they can leverage on it in times of frustration and need.
In terms of child-parent relationship, technology has the tendency to impact on parents and children in manners that could impair the healthy relationship between them. Parental attention is at high risk of being arrested by technology in today’s working society. Aside from entertainment, technology further makes it easier to continue business or office responsibility during a time that would have been spent on parenting and child-rearing”. There is the tendency too, for the child to find a false sense of independence in technology, innocently believing that technology is able to solve every of his/her problem. Quality parent-child time can become difficult, that neither parents nor children get to know each other intimately. This eventually can affect the sense of importance that they ascribe to each other. It also provides fertile ground for distance, misunderstanding, trust issues, communication problems, and recurring conflict; less love in families, diminished comfort, insecurity, decreased face-to-face communication, and ultimately weak Parent-child relationship!
The inter-spousal relationship is also not spared from the challenges that technology poses to humanity. Like the child-parent, technology equally has the tendency of creating social distance between married couples. It creates distractions that inhibit meaningful conversation while undermining intimacy. Consequently, couples are unable to enjoy the needed social support from each other, making it easier for stress, tension and pressure from outside the family (e.g. work) to affect them in adverse ways, including depression in extreme cases.
Beyond all of these, ICT through the social media, entrenches a culture of ostentation, hedonism (pleasure and aggrandizement) and materialism, with far-reaching implications for the traditional values of hard work, modesty, and contentment, particularly among the young. Social media also accentuates the possibility of leading fake, masked lives as people easily camouflage their real identities. With the ease of social media networking, young men and women are now able to contract marriages without necessarily knowing each other as intimately as would have produced an ideal marriage. Family life is further challenged as members no longer know the people that their relatives associate with. With unregulated acceptance and use of ICT and social media, marriage and family life in Africa is on a downside.
The issues raised above do not imply that ICT and social media completely lack beneficial potentials for the family in Africa. They rather point to the dysfunctions emanating from such usage based on existing realities. However, the effects of these dysfunctions can be mitigated through a conscious, deliberate move towards responsible ICT usage, particularly in the area of social media. This can begin by a massive campaign aimed at drawing stakeholders’ attention to these issues and their multiplier implications for society. Families need to be sensitized on the need for disciplined and responsible use of social media while regulating access to and usage of ICT resources for young members.