- The quality of life for a child or teen is not necessarily defined by social media use.
- Children who are not feeling a sense of secure belonging at home and in a peer community are vulnerable to the isolating impact of excessive social media use.
- Your ability as a parent to mitigate any negative impact of social media use involves giving undivided, quality attention to your child. This is your power to engage them and impart wisdom.
- The children know this because they get undivided attention all the time. What youth need, what they are craving, is undivided attention from elders who are confident that children are capable of dealing with real life issues and can learn to be responsible users of technology.
Whenever the subject of “screentime” or “use of smartphones” surfaces, there is an immediate emotional charge; a fearful declaration that our children are being ruined by unlimited access to devices and apps. And this fear of too much screentime often triggers a power struggle as parents seek to gain control over the child and the devices, or throw in the towel believing there is nothing they can do about it.
As mobile devices and smart appliances are an integral part of daily life, parents can have plenty of reasons to feel worried and powerless to protect their children. After all, the headlines about the screentime-associated damages to young lives are extreme and abundant. Just this morning I came across a newsfeed from Malaysia about a 13-year-old who committed suicide after taking an online poll via social media asking if she should kill herself.
Even more challenging is the fact that the little ones among us are natural adopters and users of the technology. In fact, it is difficult to delay them access. Their childhoods and teen years are informing them radically differently than that of our own. And many children struggle with mental health issues of anxiety and depression, which are amplified by the potential isolating impact of social media. The devices and apps are designed to stimulate the brain like a drug; to activate the short term dopamine “feel good” hits in the reward system of the brain that can become addictive if unchecked. This commercial attempt to employ the brain science of addiction to consume all of our attention is a real concern. And is enough to deny kids access to devices, right? And even if we do deny them access to devices, there still needs to be a plan to prepare them for how to be confident and responsible users of technology as they mature into adult life.
Consider also there are reports countering this belief that screentime is the primary reason why children are experiencing adult-style quality of life issues associated with mental illness (anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation). For example, this morning I also came across a recent study by Oxford University suggesting that the data available regarding the effects social media use on the quality of teen life does not prove adolescent issues originate with social media; rather according to these researchers the data suggests the relationship between social media use and quality of life are not conclusively a cause and effect dynamic; rather they are nuanced and trivial.
In other words, it’s complicated. There are a number of circumstances impacting the quality of life that can drive a teen to use social media, and there are likely circumstances associated with social media use that inspire a lower quality of life. It can go both ways.
The past 15 years of my research, fieldwork and personal experience involving the study of innovations, addiction and the human condition in the parent-child relationship has taught me one major thing: when we agree that something of this world (such as an innovation be it transportation, a weapon, a drug or a device) is the thing which has power over us and our children, it is a surrender of personal power to fear. Keep in mind that all innovations can be used for good or not good. Motive matters. And motive is associated with worldview. So if we choose to agree that screens are the devil who is in control, then we have given up our power by acting as if “screentime” is the issue, when screentime and the device are actually the distractions. We need to look deeper.
So what is the issue under the issue of screentime?
Quality attention from the parent.
I have found that it is easy to underestimate the power of your undivided attention offered to your child. Tech-savvy youth get a lot of fear and fakery on and offline. In my opinion, one of the main reasons why many youth are getting “lost” in the cyber realm of life is because they are not grounded in a secure connection at home nurtured by undivided attention. We are living very busy lives that entail juggling many commitments. So when I refer to quality attention, I am talking about no hurried agendas and judgments. Just get interested in who your child is and what interests them, and what gives them joy and breaks their hearts. Just being with them and spending time listening to them is more critical now, in this cyber-powered world, than ever. This includes their online lives.
Once you get interested in your child and how their life is informing them, it is possible to share your wisdom and engage them more fully in other activities – like sharing a meal, a family vacation, or social event wherein screentime is not an issue, nor is it necessarily forbidden. You can come up with device etiquette such as when we are together in conversation or a meal, put the device away or on airplane mode.
Give your child permission to interrupt you. Give them a silent signal, and ask them to be patient if you are in the middle of something that needs to get done. And then in exchange for their patience be sure to give them undivided attention without anxiety and frustration.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Aristotle
If we consider this wisdom from Aristotle, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” it is possible to consider the risks of screentime without agreeing that it is more powerful than the love in the boundary of your relationship with your child. If we are not committed to check this emotional charge associated with screentime, which translates as anxiety, worry and hostility, we have already then lost the battle.
To learn more about engaging tech-savvy youth to establish age-appropriate boundaries for use of apps and devices, contact Joanna.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.