Psychologist and counselor Michele S. Alignay recently gave a talk on “Digital Well-Being: Instilling Healthy Digital Habits in Kids and Teens” to parents at De La Salle Santiago Zobel, as part of the school’s efforts to align with the Mental Health Awareness talks given to its students last year.
The author, speaker and mother of two Gen Z kids said, “In high school, peers will have a stronger influence on our children already. If we want to be the bigger influence in our children’s lives, we need to establish better relationships with them.”
Gen Zs are born between 1995 and 2015 (3-23 years old this year), and often say, “I’m bored!,” “It’s hard!” or the apathetic “I don’t know.”
Alignay said that in her experience as a guidance counselor, problems that appear in adolescence (16-18 years old) often stem from troubling patterns that began in grade school.
“Age 0-12 is the best time to parent our kids,” she said. “After that, we can let go of administrative parenting like overseeing their homework, but just always be there.”
Blessing and curse
We recognize that technology is both a blessing and a curse. “Digital life is built on content, speed and accessibility,” Alignay explained. “But when our kids get addicted to speed and instantaneous results, everything else becomes boring. Therefore, we shouldn’t allow them to access more speed than they can handle, because stimulation in real life is not the same as in the virtual world.”
Alignay said that Grade 5 is a good level for digital learning; giving kids tablets before that age will give them no patience for writing and other foundational tasks like reading.
“As parents, are we upgraded?” she asked. “When our kids Google ‘sex,’ what comes out is porn. So, you better know how to answer your kids in a way that is aligned to your family’s values, because they can already access anything.”
Alignay said that in the ’80s-’90s, if you fought with a classmate and didn’t want to go to school, you went anyway and sat beside each other. We endured the discomfort, dealt with it, and eventually made up with our friend.
These days, if kids fight online, the feelings surface but they don’t know how to manage them face-to-face.
“To raise a resilient, adaptable child, if your kids get upset, let them be,” Alignay said. “But journey with them in finding a solution. Don’t be the one to face the concern yourself.”
Mental health issues such as gaming addictions to escape realities are already in countries like China and Korea, where children lack a personal relationship with their parents.
Just as we should not eat junk, we should be mindful of consuming a healthy digital diet and serving it to our kids.
“Balance is key between real and online life. You should have a lot of greens, both on your plate and in your life, so unplug often.”
How can we tell if our kid’s addicted to tech? “Young kids should be naturally talkative. If not, then they’re addicted to tech. Older kids won’t want to go out with you. They just send emojis instead of using words,” said Alignay.
“The rule of thumb is, kung kaya mong ibigay offline, give it offline. Don’t use Viber to call them for dinner.”
A question often asked by parents is, “Can I give my kid a cell phone?” This is usually reasoned with “because he graduated/got good grades/turned xx years old.”
“That’s just entitlement,” Alignay said. “Does your child have the capacity to manage their emotions? Before you give them free reign, arm their emotional intelligence first.”
Another aspect at stake these days is emotional cuing. “Our children lack the opportunity to respond to emotional and social cues. Nakukuha pa ba sila sa tingin? Before, our parents managed us with glares and tone of voice. Today’s kids lack empathy; they don’t feel what we used to since they’re not wired the way we were,” Alignay said.
With the popularity of YouTube stardom, kids now want to be vloggers or social media influencers. We can choose to frown upon these aspirations or see the opportunity to hone their creativity, language skills and confidence, and maximize their talents.
Alignay stressed that in raising digital kids/teens, parents need to recognize that media use is no longer optional, and screen time cannot be homogenized. Parental responsibility is not only to limit and control, but also to recognize opportunities.
We should also be updated on where our kids are virtually. “Kids will release their angst in platforms where you’re not present, so definitely not on Facebook, because you’re there,” Alignay said.
Parents are their children’s digital mediators; they shouldn’t be monitors in the mold of “Gimme all your passwords” because that would be too controlling.
“By being their safe bridge to media, setting the rules, knowing what they’re into, we will be able to allow our kids to go online and get to say, ‘But not on this site because…’ They know the ‘why’ so they can self-regulate. In an age-appropriate way, explain the dangers of online predators and identity theft.”
This does not reduce exposure to risk on its own, so we still need to equip our children and allow them to navigate. Self-management is a skill that is important to master, and keeping yourself updated with parental controls will help make your mediation more effective.
Alignay counseled parents not to allow their kids to have their own phones. “If necessary, give the oldest phone so it’s slow and they learn to be patient. Call it a common family gadget, not theirs. They need to share, learn conflict resolution and negotiation.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics screen time recommendation (2016) for 2- to 5-year-olds is limited to an hour co-playing or co-viewing of parent with the child. For 6- to 18-year-olds, it’s two hours max daily for noneducational screen time.
Choose media that families can enjoy both individually and together. We cannot mediate what we don’t know. Also, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. You know your family and children best.
Your relationship with your child has to be okay. A lack of genuine relationship brings about rebellion.
The role of parents cannot be replaced by gadgets and digital media. It’s not easy to raise a good family or put together a digital family.
It is up to us parents to do not what is easy, but rather what is best for our digital kids.–CONTRIBUTED