Parenting Challenges in the Digital Age

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I had the privilege to be part of a team that organized a parenting class at our church. Since our children all use or are even hooked on gadgets (specifically screen gadgets), we decided it would be relevant to discuss the challenges that come with this digital use.

I made sure to listen to the talks myself even as an organizer. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity, as all our speakers are experts in their fields. These are the things I picked up from the talks:

From Dr. Mark Reysio-Cruz, Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician, on the effects of living in a digital world on child health, behavior and development:

  • Using gadgets into the night affect the sleeping patterns of our children. Even if we set guidelines for them, when we allow them to bring their phones or other gadgets into their bedrooms at night, we are setting the stage for less sleep. The gadgets, when nearby, are tempting to use; even on silent mode, these light up when messages come in. Some have lights as they charge, which can also disrupt sleep. Less sleep leads to other outcomes like poor health and poor learning. 
  • Social networking sites could potentially cause depression or anxiety symptoms in our kids. We tend to put our best selves forward on social media, which affects those who may be feeling insecure or anxious about issues in their own lives. Envy also comes in.
  • We parents can guide and intervene in our children’s use of gadgets. According to several studies, restrictive mediation, where parents make rules regarding the use of the gadgets, and active mediation, where parents discuss media use with the child and help them to be more critical, help curtail the negative effects of excessive media use. On the other hand, co-viewing, where a parent uses their gadgets along with the children, or even watches what the children are doing but does not discuss it with them, actually increased the negative effects. My take-away from this talk: If I want to lessen the negative effects of gadgets on my children, I need to engage them in talk about media, and make and enforce rules on limits as needed and appropriate.

From Dr. Gigi Cuisia-Cruz, Adolescent Medicine Specialist, on the digitalization of Filipino teens: 

  • Aside from causing less sleep, poor health, depression and obesity, dependence on media exposes our teens to pornography because it is now so easily accessible.
  • Discussions with our teenaged children about the Internet, social networking, and cyber safety are recommended. One thing that struck me, as my children are already 22, 19 and 11, is that at this later stage (especially for my older boys), it’s not really possible to restrict their use. Moreover, you need a balance between checking up on their Internet usage and giving them the privacy they need and deserve. My take-away: It really is important to have discussions with our children and not just resign ourselves to their use of media, or try to restrict them when they are at an age where Internet use is a part of their school work and jobs, as well as a significant part of their social life.  

From Dr. Renee Joy Neri, Ambulatory Pediatrics Child Protection Specialist, on online and offline protection from child abuse:  

  • Children are vulnerable to bullying and other forms of abuse through the Internet. Renee shared some cases on online bullying and some documented Internet games that start as small dares but can culminate in children hurting themselves or even committing suicide. This talk made me pause and think about my boys. As parents who try our best to provide a loving home, it’s sobering to realize that our kids can be abused, right at home, via the Internet!
  • Parents need to help their children understand the importance of online safety and of carefully choosing privacy settings. Renee shared precautions we parents can take to help prevent both online and offline child abuse. That our children will freely discuss any abuse or bullying with us is a myth. Normally they would clam up about it, making those conversations about the Internet and online safety all the more crucial.  It’s also important to make sure they understand the privacy settings on different social media so they are not unintentionally sharing a lot of information that can cause them harm later on.

From Ms. Lillian Gui, Counseling Psychologist and Child Psychotherapist, rounding up the discussion:

  • We parents set the tone on our children’s use of gadgets. Asking the parents about their Internet use, Ms. Ali then pointed out that we tend to focus on restricting our children, and we worry about their constant use of gadgets – but we set the tone!

This made me think about my own Internet use and what kind of example I have been showing my children. Do I use it responsibly?  Or do I stay up late hooked on Facebook or just mindlessly flipping through the Internet? Do my children see that relationships and my walk with God merit more priority than online time?

  • Internet/ media/ gadget use is one of the primary child-rearing challenges for many parents in this digital age, but we can look to God for wisdom and help as we raise our children. As Ms. Ali reviewed the different ill effects of the Internet and things we can do to help our children navigate the digital age safely, she concluded by saying that parents always have challenges in raising their kids. For this time, the Internet/media/gadget use is probably the prime challenge for many of us. Years from now, the challenges will be different again.

Despite the ever-changing parenting challenges we face, one thing doesn’t change, and that is God’s faithfulness to us as we parent. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

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