Electronical devices are a helpful, an essential and an unavoidable part of our lives. However, there is a growing overuse of these devices in all parts of society, especially in youths. There are a lot of advices how to cope with such an overuse. Here some examples.
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
- For children aged 2 to 5 years, screen use should be limited to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
- Children aged 6 years and older, consistent limits should be placed on the time spent using media, and on the types of media, and to make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
- Spend designated media-free time together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
- Ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.
These are the adapted guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The more detailed version can be found here.
- Have Rules
- Set Limits on Usage
- Pay Attention to Netiquette
- Stress Quality Over Quantity
- Don’t Ignore the Friend in Front of You
- Maintain Privacy
- Privacy Does Not Include Family Members
- Teach About Permanency
- Encourage Kids to Take it Slow
- Know the Lingo
But the danger of the internet is not only in its overuse. Sexting and stalking become an ever-bigger problem.
23 Ways You Could be Cyberstalked gives an oversight about the dimension of this problem. And, of course, there are advises how to approach children about the topic of sexuality and the internet.
- Start discussions early about the risks of sexting.
- Stress that it isn’t OK to pressure someone into sexting, or to let others pressure you.
- Remind your child that once an image is sent, it can’t be controlled or retracted.
- Explain the possible legal consequences.
- Talk with teens about sexting situations they might face, and safe responses.
- Offer books to instill healthy views of sexuality.
- Talk to your children about what a healthy romantic relationship looks like.
- Before taking a teen’s phone away, try first to teach how to use it responsibly.
The Wall Street Journal
All this is well meant and sounds good. But it seems difficult to follow such advice. The reality is that parents come to us and ask us to tell their children to reduce the use of the tablet or the smartphone, something they themselves had tried so many times before in vain. Of course, even if we do, it will not change anything. Just telling young people to reduce screen time, to stress dangers or to provide guidelines is no good counselling. We must understand the world of the children and adolescents, in the first place. Only then we able to develop strategies that might induce a change of behaviour.
A Greek proverb says that a child, in order to grow up, needs a whole village. With the nuclear family left (parents and may be a sibling), the village has vanished. The same is even true in most villages. Out of necessity, parents tend to try to fulfil all the functions of a village. They want to be friend, teacher, priest and the village idiot altogether. But this necessarily fails. That is, there is a structural problem in today’s parenting due to the social nature of our society.
Children born after 1995 grew up in the electronic village. They grew and grow up with the internet and a smartphone. They are called the generation Z or the internet generation (iGen). This generation differs radically from former generations. The following list sums up some characteristics attributed to the internet generation as verified by psychological research. Although psychological research is always somehow uncertain, we see these characteristics in our everyday practice.
List adapted after
Twenge JM (2018): iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us.
- Young people are more depressed (Facebook depression),
- are more alone (thousand likes and no friend)
- have less self-esteem,
- have fewer social skills,
- are less interested in social values like family life,
- have less spiritual intentions like religion,
- are less rebellious,
- do not taking risks easily (with good and bad side-effects),
- have less sleep,
- have less somatic exercise,
- are mostly sexually educated from the internet and by pornography,
- have a later onset of sexual life,
- are less prepared to take their own responsibility.
This is the social context of our children. Of course, not all children feel or behave that way. It is rather a tendency. But in our everyday counselling, we are happy to find a child that behaves ‘normally’, that is the way we ourselves had experienced youth and adolescence. Society has radically changed the last 2-3 decades.
That is, we are not concerned only with screens hours, but with the general outline of life that is different than ours. For an effective counselling, we must understand this wider social frame. To try to manage certain superficial symptoms will not lead to a sustainable change of behaviour. It will be no substantial help.
We believe that sustainable change is best done according to the principles of family therapy. Families are the natural context for both growth and healing and our task is to support families in their development. This is a more positive approach than the idea to correct an unwanted behaviour. Family therapy regards the presented ‘problem’ not as the main problem. The ‘problem’ is seen as an expression of a deeper malfunction. Enhancing the functionality of the family, the symptom will vanish or, at least, improve a lot.
As we are all much more children of our time than we might imagine, the social aspect is as important as the inner function of the family. We live in a time of tremendous change, a change that will be even more turbulent with the challenges of climate change. It is a world difficult to grow up. Facing the problem of screen overuse, it is necessary to see also the wider social context, in order to give the family an aid to orientation.
Having established such a frame, advice for screen use make sense and the necessary measures become self-evident.