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A Child Psychologist’s Road Map to a Happy Future in the Digital World

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Jim Schroeder - published on 08/19/15


  As children grow older, though, we see media and technology used strategically, to follow one’s curiousity (e.g., “Where and how does a honey badger live?”) or as rewards (e.g., an extra cartoon for chores completed).  Yet, the aspiration is that children come to understand how to learn, create, communicate, and entertain through what the people and environment around them provide.  Their bodies grow strong and lean from constant movement; their minds ask curious questions and seek out the answers in the world around them. 

Meanwhile, through both natural development (e.g., when children start smiling and pointing) and repeated instruction by parents and caregivers, they start navigating the social-emotional world.  They learn that relationships can be challenging and frustrating, but through repeated communication of happiness, fear, admissions, apologies, and forgiveness, they develop a sense of excitement about engaging with people they know, and those they will come to meet.  Unfortunately, repeated texting during childhood and adolescence inhibits this very intricate, intimate process; therefore, if parents desire to have access to their kids while away, they do so through phones that do not have texting capacity.  By the time they reach adulthood, parents who have seen this vision realized in their offspring find themselves excited by the next step that their son and/or daughter will take.  They recognize the holistic development that has occurred, and that they have learned the core skills needed to take on the next challenges that will come.

Principle #2:Media/technology promotes human autonomy and critical-thinking, not unnecessary dependence on devices:  From the earliest of age, we all have a desire to seek out support when the least uncertainty or uneasiness arises.  Little kids run to their mom when they fall down.  Toddlers cling to their parents in unfamiliar situations.  But as we grow older, it is important that we learn to distinguish between moments when we should reach out for help or seek diversion/avoidance, and when we should rely on ourselves (and our Maker) to work through challenges.  It is a necessary thing because life only gets busier and more complicated, and those that struggle with even small decisions and tasks will always struggle more with life’s bigger issues. 

This vision of autonomy merges with technology in a few ways with our youth.  We seek to teach our kids how to use technology as rewards and aids, not necessities and crutches.  It is here that mobile devices can become a deterrent to this aspiration, as their “constant companionship” leads our youth to repeatedly text for reassurance, surf for pleasure, or game for engagement.  When pressed to divorce from this “companion,” fear and anger often rise up, which contradicts much of what we envision for the growth of our youth.  So devices must be withheld, except for periodic, direct use.  When this vision comes to fruition, what we see is something truly beautiful.  It is the sight of a young man or women seeking out their personal calling, unsubscribing to the need for repeated assurance and adulation; one where fear of failure gives way to a love of self, of others, and of where they may be called.  In their autonomous being, others come to experience this person as authentic, and vibrant, and empathetic, engaged in every way possible to what surrounds them. 

Principle #3:Media/technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself:  If technology is truly a gift to us like fire and water, then it must live by the same rules.  We seek fire for warmth, not to die in its intensity.  We seek water for restoration, not to drown in its submersion.  And we seek technology for its access, not to languish in its immersion.  As our youth grow up in a technological way, what we seek for them is to discover how media/technology can link them to an experience already spawned in their own being.  Whether it is the moment that worm curls up from a crack in the driveway, and they wonder just how it lives.  Whether is when the sun rises in the morning, and they desire to know how and why it ascends.  Whether it is the moment they see a plane for the first time, and imagine that someday they might guide its wings. 

The vision for our youth is that technology does not become the prize or the calling, but that the calling or prize is made more possible at times through its lens.  So, at young age, we begin to use the internet as a launch back outdoors.  Movies and television aren’t used for the primary purpose of babysitting (although at times it may occur), but rather to give them a laugh, and keep them curious.  Days may go by and screens remain silent.  That is okay because we do not seek to divert our children from the real act of living, but appreciate when the screen lights up for the promise it holds, not needing it for their being.  And as they grow older, and they are given the choice between “veging” in front of a screen, or seeking out new wisdom, or the renewed touch, and sound, and sight of the woman next to them, the screens will lose out to a world unknown until then.

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