Wired generation prone to violence, narcissism, depression
Violence in video games and the media desensitize people. Computer games are especially designed to be addictive, isolating users from real people.
This was the gist of the lecture “Wired: Effective Child Rearing on the Use of Technology,” by Inquirer columnist and teacher Queena Lee-Chua at De La Salle Zobel recently.
The psychologist said gamers and users think that the technology merely provides passive entertainment, but it is in passivity when people are most receptive to subliminal messages, accepting violence and negative messages as okay. By the age of 13, a child would have already witnessed 18,000 murders on media, she explained, and he would find violence the norm.
But Chua forbade parents from banning children from shows and games, as it might only push them further to consume them, secretly or defiantly.
Instead, she encouraged two-way, open-family communication. The self-professed gamer suggested watching or playing shows or games deemed controversial with their kids, and then talking about what was happening onscreen to help them process what they’d just consumed. Parents need to be truly engaged and actively listening, and withhold judgment as much as possible.
“Model real-life rather than online communication,” Chua said. “Favor real-life friends over Facebook friends. Invest in both quantity and quality time. The little things count: bonding and spending time with each other.”
Chua, who wrote “Growing Up Wired: Raising Kids in the Digital Age” (Anvil, 2013), said normal teens would be self-conscious, acne-ridden and either skinny or pudgy, unlike the avatars or alter egos they had created for themselves online. So they’d rather spend more time in an alternate universe where they could be their definition of cool!
But she warned that the brain would change the longer a person stayed in virtual worlds. She warned against an “impaired mesocorticolimbic dopamine system,” which is like being “high” on drugs. Such cue-induced cravings lead to substance dependence.
Gray matter, Chua explained, decreases in the prefrontal cortex, and in functional connectivity in the cortex/subcortical areas (like when using cocaine/heroin).
Demographers have christened today’s kids as the “iGen.” The demographic describes today’s generation as internet-driven, and self-absorbed and narcissistic.
Materialism and hedonism propagated by advertisements proclaim that “virginity is for losers” and “suffering has to be avoided at all costs; pleasure is supreme,” Chua said. Pornography is rougher, more violent nowadays, and freely accessible.
In 2014, the Philippines racked up $1 billion in porn transactions. Unrated TV shows in the new binge-watching format made popular by Netflix such as “13 Reasons Why” make suicide appear noble, glamorous and righteous, when it is, in essence, sadly narcissistic.
“Every parent has to decide for themselves whether they will let their children watch and, if so, under what conditions,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“Generation Me is used to instant gratification, which translates into boredom, short attention spans, multitasking, lack of focus, and constant entertainment,” said Chua.
“There is little emphasis on the mind and learning and more emphasis on the body and entertainment. They can be self-absorbed or narcissistic and can depend on others more than on themselves (such as in the case of parents feeling pressure to hire outside academic support, which communicates lack of confidence in the child, which leads to poor study habits).”
Chua said at one time she allowed some of her students to just take photos of the day’s notes on the blackboard with their phones instead of writing them down. She noted later that photo-taking students landed at the bottom of the class.
The process of note-taking engages the mind more and helps in retaining, processing and understanding the information being received, so Chua said she has since forbidden such photo-taking of notes at her sessions. There is value in acquiring knowledge the “hard” or “old-fashioned” way.
Because they often escape into the virtual world, Chua said that today’s youth have difficulty relating in-depth and lack empathy, which leads to loneliness and depression.
“They confuse communication with self-expression at all costs; their writing lacks depth because their words stem from little reflection,” she said.
As for the poor reading skills, Chua has this advice: Read! Limit TV, computer and gaming time. Children below two years old should have no screen time (as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics). Parents should set these goals with their children to enable buy-in of such rules and be consistent with enforcing them together with other caregivers like nannies and grandparents.
On the other hand, positive traits possessed by Generation Me include being more open (pluralistic, tolerant, diverse), self-confident (unless it leads to narcissism), ambitious (with frequent course/job/career hoppers) and collaborative (in general). They like to serve their community by trying to find meaning in their work (what Simon Sinek similarly observed in today’s job-hopping millennials).
However, sensitive issues this generation has to deal with that others before them have not are how to cope with more rampant bullying (be it online, physical or verbal), the ease of porn availability in websites, magazines and books, how reading has taken a back seat, while gaming and social networking is allocated more time.
In September, the Atlantic posted an article (“Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”) that discussed how post-millennials had become affected by mental health issues because of this artificial “living” setup. Higher screen time meant higher cases of depression and unhappiness. The figures are all from the United States, but I can see how the results can be similar locally. —CONTRIBUTED
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