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Gadgets, games and breaking family bonds in Indonesia

Online addiction among children is putting strains not only on families but on the kids themselves

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Gadgets, games and breaking family bonds in Indonesia

Gabriel Dimas, 13, plays a game on his smartphone. For him, gadgets have three main functions — to communicate, to gather information and to play games, with the emphasis on the latter. (Photo by Katharina R. Lestari/ucanews.com)

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Every evening, Gabriel Dimas can be found in his tiny bedroom sitting at a desk clutching a smartphone, his eyes glued avidly to the screen. 

The 13-year-old just loves playing one of the most popular electronic games currently available on mobile devices.

"Mobile Legends is the only game I have on my smartphone. I've some games on my laptop but this is my favorite," Gabriel told ucanews.com.

The first grader from Kanisius Junior High School in Central Jakarta plays games for hours each day after getting home from school.

"I do my homework first, then I play a game for at least two hours. At weekends, I play for eight hours a day," he said.

His school, run by the Jesuits, has a policy obliging students to submit homework via emails. 

"If I cannot answer a question, I look for the answer on the internet. However, I use electronic gadgets mainly to play games. I really enjoy it," he said, admitting his love of playing games makes him reluctant to go to Sunday Mass. 

 

Benefits vs impacts 

Gabriel is the youngest son of Veronica Erna, a 52-year-old mother of two from St. Joseph Parish in Matraman, East Jakarta.

The Catholic laywoman, who runs a small business, initially planned to buy him a smartphone when he reached 16. However, her 54-year-old husband Petrus, who works in Surabaya, East Java province, decided to buy one sooner for a more practical reason.

"My husband is away often and wants to communicate regularly with our son. That's why he gave him a smartphone when he was still a sixth grader," she said.

When Gabriel enrolled in junior high school this year, she bought him a laptop and set up an internet connection, aimed at supporting his studies.

She's glad about that in the sense her son now has a wider knowledge. "Yet I now find it difficult to talk with him. Once he starts playing a game, all his attention is on that and I'm ignored," she said.

For her, these electronic gadgets are more dangerous than drugs. "I want him to understand that they are addictive," she said. "He's missing out on other things because of online games." 

She says she has to continually remind him how to manage his time — to study, play games and spend quality time with the family. 

"He still can't do it," she said, adding that she pays heed to remarks once made by Pope Francis by insisting that her son joins the rest of the family around the table at meal times.

In November 2015, the pope told thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at a general audience that "a family that almost never eats together, or never speaks at the table but looks at the television or a smartphone, is hardly a family."

Erna isn't alone. Nendya, a 41-year-old father of three from St. Albert the Great Parish in Bekasi, West Java province, said electronic gadgets can turn children into zombies.

"My children play games for hours and simply don't care about what's going on around them," he said.

 

Psychological effect

According to Holy Family Father Erwin Santoso, who heads the Jakarta Archdiocese's Commission for the Family, excessive use changes children's behavior.

"The psychological effect we often see is that children live a digital lifestyle which offers only two answers: yes and no. This is dangerous," he said.

"Before using gadgets, children like the process. After using them, they like something instant. If they can't get what they want instantly, they can punish themselves or even become suicidal in extreme cases," he said.

Gisella Tani Pratiwi, a Catholic psychologist who works at Bunda Aliyah Hospital in Depok, near Jakarta, elaborated by saying electronic gadgets "prevent children from developing critical thought, makes them more individualistic and less able to control their emotions." 

In a bid to try and help maintain family bonds, the archdiocesan commission offers counselling to parents facing such problems. Father Santoso and five psychologists and psychiatrists deal with at least four sets of parents on a daily basis.

"Their cases are different but the root causes are the same. Some say they are ignored, some say they don't know what to do," the priest said.

"The crux is that parents must commit to more effectively controlling how their children use such gadgets so that they get the benefits and are not affected by the downsides of the technology." 

Nendya agrees. "Parents should educate their children more about the things that they use and to use them more responsibly," he said, adding that being too strict was not the answer either.

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