The advent of the Third Industrial Revolution has disrupted relationships between people, making the world a ‘planetary village’. Nowadays, thanks to social media, interactions in the four corners of the Earth have been simplified and globalized. The world is connected. Information flows faster and reaches large and diverse audiences through different channels. From there, not only have we been learning new things from outside, but we are also permanently redefining ourselves. Sounds good, doesn’t it? From a mere look of things, one might deduce that the technological breakthrough is perfect and on-point for parents as it exposes them to platforms wherein they can get quick support to raise their child(ren). In other words, simplistically put, one could claim that social media has created “better parents”. Now the questions remain: is that true? Or is it a fallacy? What are the stakes of social media in an African teenager ‘s education? Exploring these interrogations is crucial because as Bandyopadhyay (2017) puts it “parents today lie at a crossroads of pre-social media and post-social media days; how they engage in parenting is evaluated not only on the benchmark of traditionalist perspectives on parenting but also on more moral and ethical compasses of whether they are doing it “right.”

Parenting at a glance

Parenting is defined as the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. A parent is, therefore, a person who holds different responsibilities that contribute to making their child a better man or woman in society. Since time immemorial, parenting has been like a job, which description traditionally involves tasks like teaching, caring, protecting, supervising, coaching, and sometimes, punishing a child to set them on a path a society perceives to be right.  

Parenting is usually done by the biological parents of the child in question, although the state and society take a role as well. In many countries, the State intervenes in schools through the transfer of moral values during Citizenship and Moral Education (CME) classes. On the other hand, the role of the society stands in watching over the child and providing feedback to the parent. For instance, in the African traditional context characterized by extended families, before the year 2000 (the advent of the internet in Africa), parenting was not limited to the family only but rather extended to the community. Contrary to the West whereby children are raised by the toys and gear they are offered, tales, legends, proverbs, myths and epics were used to provide moral education in Africa alongside the European education. Back in those days, parenting was done in most African communities based on the Ubuntu philosophy. This meant that the actions of a child were guided, controlled and regulated by the entire community.

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Then what happened? 

Globalization happened. The Internet promoted it. Information was made available for everybody through Open access platforms including Social media. In Africa, this technological revolution expanded with increased access to mobile phones in 2007/2008. In 2011, the United Nation’s mobile learning specialist Steve Vosloo argued that phones could be the future of education on the continent as an increasing number of initiatives – some large-scale, some small – used mobile technologies to distribute educational materials, support reading, and enable peer-to-peer learning and remote tutoring through social networking services. Mobiles streamlined education administration and improved communication between schools, teachers and parents. (Vosloo, 2011). Indeed, mobile phones were then the key alternative to the little access to the internet on the continent, together with a large-scale absence of computers and smartphones, compounded by the high cost of connectivity. (Stork et al, 2013).

However, the 2008 global financial crisis did not spare Africa. In Nigeria for instance, the sharp fall in crude oil prices during the financial crisis affected the country’s economy. Crude oil prices dropped from a peak of $147 in July 2008 to about $41 in March 2009. Nigeria’s federal government, which earns about 90 per cent of its revenue from oil sales, saw its revenue drop by 44 per cent during the same period. (Oguh, 2020). A report by the African Development Bank (2009) highlighted that ‘from October 2008, sovereign debt spreads rose by an average of 250 basis points for emerging countries. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 100,000 jobs were lost due to smelter closures. For the continent as a whole, inflation was higher in 2008 (10.4%) than in 2007 (7.4%). African governments had to bridge the gap between the ambition of economic growth and sustaining a galloping population. Ten years after the crisis, Te Velde (2018) argues that Africa is growing but needs more investment in productive capacity and financing for infrastructure to transform economies and create jobs (in sub-Saharan Africa 35,000 additional jobs are needed each day to keep up with demographic challenges). But if we look at it critically, it stands out that the most poignant and direct consequence of the economic crisis at the family level is that parents have to work longer hours to earn more money to support their families. By pursuing that mission, most parents have ended up losing attention to their child(ren), who along the way, have been caught up by the overwhelming eruption of social media. 

The outcomes are bitterly remarkable

We live in an Era of millennials wherein technology has taken over every sector and made it easy to access information about almost everything. Arnold (2018) asserts that today, 71% of millennials value the advice and insights they receive from parenting blogs, parenting websites, forums, and social networks. The positive side of using social media as a parenting tool is that unlike pre-social media days whereby parenting support was restrained to the nearby available parent or neighbour, the support today is broader and almost immediate. From sharing ultrasound pictures to participating in online mothering forums (like BabyCenter, Natural Mother, etc), people have greater access to information, sharing, and a sense of community through social media than before. (Bandyopadhyay, 2017). 

Source: (Duggan et al, 2015)

How long citizens in these African countries spent on social media

Source: (Ojekunle, 2019)

However, given this low level of connectivity and literacy rate in Africa, one can deduce that the aforementioned statistics and positives include less African parents. Now let’s focus on the vast majority of African parents offline and the repercussions of their lack of attention.

Because of the limited time parents have at home, African children spend a lot of time on social media today. These teenagers are left to browse the internet, naïve of how it could affect them. Social media has become “the Parent” by filling the time-gap left by biological or related parents who are in the race for money. As a result, children are exposed to sexting, online predators, and cyberbullying. In schools, for instance, the level of distraction is higher today because most young people have become addicted to social media. A study conducted in 2015 at the University of Zambia concluded that students used social media more for social information than for academic purposes. More than half of the students investigated found themselves saying “just a few more minutes” when using social media, check their social media sites before doing something else, felt their academic productivity suffered because of social media. (Akakandelwa and Walubital, 2017). Acculturation is another big outcome of social media use. Indecent pictures displayed by Entertainment firms including Hollywood explain most African teenagers dress code today and some social media posts have depressive effects. 

Source: (Kelion, 2017)

Given these realities, if we were to call a spade a spade, then we can confidently say that social media is doing more bad than good to young people in Africa today.

Don’t get me wrong. It is undeniable that these social media have facilitated our ways of life. But even the parents who seek advice on them cannot deny the fact that social media sometimes affect their self-esteem as to the feedback provided or the comparison done with other parents. 

Africa can still rise off the beaten track 

The French economist Jean Bodin, once stated that: “The prime wealth is Man”. It’s only him/her who triggers the other resources (either financial or material). But should he or she be imbued with a strong character that responds to “the calls” of his/her society, while considering the positive aspects of globalization? To beat street/social media education, there needs to be a strong partnership between the school and the family. In Schools, priority and particular attention should be paid to Citizenship and Moral Education classes from Primary to High School. On the other hand, African parents should regain consciousness and adopt some “old-school” manners like more parental control (by placing boundaries to internet usage) and having in-person meetings with their children to eat, talk and laugh. This is the only way African parents will be able to monitor and evaluate the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual life of the children, not by hiding behind some vague unemotional WhatsApp emojis.


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