Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash
Only a few of us would argue against the benefits that digital technology has brought to our lives. We can no longer imagine navigating through Metro Manila traffic without using Waze, or without the instant messaging apps we use to communicate with our loved ones abroad or to just keep updated on where our kids are. We can now shop for almost anything without having to leave home, saving loads of time and gas. There is no argument: technology has made our lives easier and richer in many ways. But what is the impact to us being parents? How are our children affected by the digital highway? This is where it becomes really uncomfortable.
Research upon research has proven the many adverse effects on children. They are affecting the minds, bodies, and souls of our children in ways that we parents desperately need to be aware of and to address.
Excessive use of the screen – be it for video gaming or watching videos for entertainment – has been proven to be as addictive as drugs. Several studies have also established that it adversely affects academic performance. We are entering the age of impatience, where expectations for speed and ease are rising exponentially. Worse is the many potential dangers – both physical and moral – that our children are exposed to in the very expansive and open digital highway: pornography, bullying, romanticism and encouragement of suicide, to mention a few. They turn to social media to meet their five core needs of identity, belonging, competence, security, and purpose. Family relationships are also affected, because digital immersion reduces the time that parents and kids spend together, undermining the relationship that parents and kids have. Clearly, the digital age is posing real, significant risks to our children and families.
Should we put a complete ban on technology or box them up and burn them? No, this is not the answer. Technology will only move forward and we have to move forward with it. The future that our children will face will more and more harness technology to improve lives. But we have to take action now, and learn how to address the parenting challenges we are facing. We cannot just sit back and relax, because now more than ever, our children need us.
What do we need to do? What can we do? How can we stand up and face this huge wave that seems to be drowning us? Here I offer a four-pronged action plan, which, for it to work, each of the elements needs to work with the others.
First, lay down RULES on usage. Our children need us to put a structure in their lives, given that the part of their brains (prefrontal cortex) responsible for executive functions is not yet developed. We need to be courageous and provide boundaries. Locate computers and gadgets in common areas (not bedrooms) in order to have visibility on what they do. Monitor ratings of and values projected by games they play or movies they view; have a healthy discussion about it. No gadgets during meal times. No TV or computer games during school days. Each family should come up with their own set of rules. To help enforce rules, installing computer filters may help.
Second, develop CHARACTER. We cannot monitor our children’s digital behavior all the time, and thus ultimately, whether they use technology positively or negatively will then boil down to their character. There are three very crucial character traits that digital kids need to learn:
- Critical thinking – you may also call this prudence and discernment. With an avalanche of information readily available at their fingertips, they must know how to ask and answer “Why?” and not just the “who, what, where, when”. They must be taught to think more deliberately and thoughtfully, going into the deeper questions and not just stay at the surface level.
- Grit – fortitude and perseverance; the ability to move forward even in the face of failure, and even in the absence of immediate rewards (such as what they get in games). This trait is important to counter the impatience that pervade among them. To develop this, we need to allow them to fail and not cushion them too much from pain. We need to be there to encourage them when they face adversity; it is not our role to create an artificial, pain-free life for them.
- Self-control – temperance and self-mastery. Self-regulation is the only way for any of us to ultimately be masters of our digital world. The real strength of a person comes from his self-mastery. The primary way to develop this in them is to say “no” when we need to, not to give in to what they want all the time, and to help them distinguish between needs and Reading, sports, play are also proven to develop self-control, thus we need to encourage our children to have plenty of this, as alternative to screen time.
Third, have a healthy, loving and strong FAMILY. Our own research shows that Filipino children and teenagers still value family a lot. They look to their parents for guidance and support, even if it may not look that way externally.Being connected through technology may make sense, but the human heart will always long for the deeper connection of person-to-person, which should be found at home, within the family. We parents need to carve out – and defend – family time, including intimate, one-on-one conversations with our children. We need to find ways to stay “tuned in” and be emotionally connected with them.
Fourth, PRAY. All the three above can only go too far. The devil is working double time to sow evil in this world, and our children are easy targets. We need divine help. We pray for our children, that they may be protected from physical and moral harm. We pray that we become better parents, that we would have the fortitude to carry on with our parenting responsibility despite all the tiredness and challenge we encounter. Finally, we need to pray with our children. We have to help them develop their own loving relationship with God. They need to form their core identity as sons and daughters of a loving Father who loves them unconditionally. When everything around them seems to be failing them, including technology, school, friends, or even us parents, this secure identity on being a uniquely loved child of God is what will pull them through.
Yes, technology is daunting for us parents. But we have it in us, and with God’s unfailing help, we can face this challenge.
Pauline Gatera Fermin is a high-caliber strategy executive with 20 years experience working for P&G, The Coca-Cola Company, and Beverage Partners Asia, and 10 years consulting experience across various industries in the Philippines. She is part owner of Acumen Strategy Consultants, where she serves as Managing Director and Senior Strategist.