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“Education needed to counter messages”
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“Education needed to counter messages”

Social media content is exposing youth to lifestyle and behaviour choices that may be misleading or dangerous, writes Kiyara Matambanadzo, 16, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Harare in Zimbabwe, who says teenagers must be informed at home and at school about countering those messages. 

The problem of a seeming increase in vices such as drug abuse, alcoholism and sex before marriage comes with the question of how to educate our teenagers in ways that will impact them as they navigate the murky waters of the internet.

It is clear that the main issue with educating our young people about these dangers  is the ever-present threat of social media. It is not the media platforms themselves that present a problem, it is the fact that contradictory information and messages are circulated and absorbed by teenagers. Whether this information is true or false, it still glamorises the effects and consequences of behaviours and lifestyles they promote. In other words, everything that our parents say to us is always just a few clicks away from being contradicted and undermined.

For these reasons, in 2018 it is now time for us to redress the ways in which teenagers are warned and educated about the world in which they live.

It is now extraordinarily easy, as a teenager, to fall into the trap of popular culture. It’s easy to want to be accepted by the society we live in to the point that the only way to survive is to conform to what the world portrays as ‘cool’ and ‘acceptable’. In essence, it is safe for us to say that these days, even turning your phone or laptop on can potentially be dangerous or damaging to our mental health. How easily teenagers can be convinced about popular trends that take over the internet as a result of their exposure!

However, it would be useless to outline the problems without coming up with a solution. In addition, it would be pointless for me to offer my perspective and my solution as a teenager in this predicament if I re-iterated the same old argument: that banning, monitoring or strictly regulating the use of cellular devices and social media is the only solution to safeguarding our education. This argument can no longer hold an influential weight, because it is widely known that banning cellular devices is not possible in our digital day and age.

I believe, instead, that if charity begins at home, then so should education. We must start to show our teenagers the way in which they should continue. Starting the conversation at home without fear and without reservation is the way to teach young people how to be responsible and avoid finding themselves in situations they are not ready for. It is time to put aside the fear of teenagers knowing too much and realise that if we are not told by the people we trust most, then we will be overloaded with wrong information from unreliable sources. It is, therefore, in our homes and in our schools where we must educate our young ones on the consequences of drug abuse, alcoholism and unprotected sex.

We must also define education. Telling young people not to take drugs, drink alcohol or have sex is not educating them. This is the strategy that was employed by our grandparents in schooling our parents forty years ago. However, this strategy is no longer effective. Especially now, when teenagers can simply look online for alternative answers that suit their wants, even if those answers are not healthy for them. The education we now need from our parents and leaders is an education where we are told the issue, why it is a problem, the consequences of indulging in the behaviour and ways to safeguard ourselves against it.

The Oxford dictionary defines education as ‘the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction’ or ‘an enlightening experience’. The kind of education we give our children at home needs to be a combination of the two definitions so that our young people know about the problems they are faced with and are enlightened about how to tackle them without stumbling – and before they even have the chance to switch on their phones, laptops or tablets. In this way we can be assured that teenagers can have safe and reliable educational experiences, before they are exposed to the many different perils that riddle teenage society today.

It is important for teenagers to know that the consequences of alcohol and drug abuse as well as unsafe sex are far reaching. They go beyond the damage caused to their bodies and involve the way they impact one’s mental state. We must cherish this educational process, especially as mental health can become extremely fragile during the difficult teenage years. Substance abuse can cause serious damage to the mental state of an individual and can impact them far into their adult years, despite the temporary enjoyment it may offer.

The verb ‘to educate’ means ‘to give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to’, and young people must be the recipients of this intellectual, moral and social instruction at home and in school. This is to ensure that we are  sent out into the world not simply equipped with academic knowledge, but also with the knowledge of how to survive morally and socially.

Photo credit: Peter Ras Social Media via photopin (license)
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About me: I am a teenaged Zimbabwean citizen. In an environment where people only put stock in doctors and lawyers as successful and influential members of society, I aspire to be an impacting member of Africa and the world by addressing the harsh truths of society today. My ambition as of now is to be able to break out of the stigmatic bond of being an African girl child and allow others to do the same.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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