When we talk about the burdens people carry, we tend to refer to what they “carry on their backs” or what has been placed “on their shoulders.” When it comes to the hardships of today’s children and adolescents, we should instead think about what we are putting into their hands.
Last month, the Institute for Family Studies released a report on the relationship between family structure and teens’ use of technology (particularly gaming, social media, video chat, online shopping, and texting).
Given the ubiquity of devices and the social pressure placed on kids to get them early and stay on them often, researchers wanted to understand how parents and families navigate this gauntlet, perhaps the last defense against addiction.
The short story is that teens who grew up in intact families (defined by their two married biological parents) use digital media on average two hours less per day than their peers who grow up in non-intact families.
The authors conclude that this margin, which does have an effect on sleep, mental health and self-esteem, is probably related to the fact that intact families tend to establish and enforce more family rules, including around the use of smartphones or tablets. technical devices. .
In the words of a sociologist I recently interviewed, “Marriage and family are more important now than they were 30 or 40 years ago when it comes to a number of outcomes for children.” As it turns out, technology use is now one of them.
What is shocking, however, is that children in intact families still spend an average of eight to nine hours a day on digital or social media, which the scholars say is an “astonishing amount of time, given the time children spend sleeping, eating, going to going to school, watching TV (which was not included as digital media) and participating in extracurricular activities.”
In light of this statistic, there are a number of topics to consider: how do we as a society understand the value of the time we are given, whether or not we realize that we are social animals that need embodied relationships, that there are important things that we lack, such as play and recreation, and for which we need mental and emotional space free from comparison, affirmation, and self-reference.
As a mother of two young children, I know how my children are affected when I pull out my phone in front of them. I am also aware that they are growing up in a time when most public spaces are adorned with televisions and smart devices.
As a mother who considers herself dedicated to trying to help her children cultivate their imaginations, be comfortable with silence, and relate to others personally, the struggle with fencing feels Sisyphean.
These are things my parents worked on, but they counted on layoffs to support their efforts: neighbors, parishioners, coaches, scout leaders, and teachers were all involved in the plan.
The institute’s report confirms what many of us know: that parents are now the most important, but in most cases the only, figures who can shape their children’s relationship with screens.
The good news is that where families create technology-free spaces and time periods, particularly around meals and bedtime, kids seem to be learning habits of detachment. And when groups of parents unite in solidarity to delay giving smartphones to their kids, their teens and teens are more receptive because they’re not the only ones without them.
Those of us who came of age before the tech revolution understand the burdens we all carry now, as we remember life without them.
While our kids may have to hold these devices in their hands, maybe we can keep their innocence a little longer and give them a taste of how things were – and can be – with some technological moderation.
Elise Italiano Ureneck is a communications consultant and columnist for the Catholic News Service.