Maturity is the prerequisite for true digital citizenship, said Deborah MacNamara. Photo by Steinar La Engeland, StockSnap

Digital devices are competing with parents, says counsellor

By  Josh Tng, Canadian Catholic News
  • April 28, 2017

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – Digital devices are competing with parents in forming relationships with their children, says a parenting expert.

“Teenage Internet addiction is on the rise with multiple pediatric warnings,” said Deborah MacNamara, director of Kid’s Best Bet, a counselling and family resources centre in Vancouver.

 According to research cited by MacNamara, “nearly 100 per cent” of young people aged 12-24 use the Internet and, according to a poll, youth aged 8-18 spend more than 10 hours a day accessing technology.

Speaking at St. Anne’s parish in Abbotsford, MacNamara warned that technology may provide an emotional substitute for children. An increasing technological connection to peers may cause children to satisfy an “attachment hunger” with their peers, rather than with parents or other authoritative figures.

Another issue, said MacNamara, is the threat that technology “interferes with healthy brain growth, undermines our ability to control content and suffocates tentative individuality as well as tender emerging ideas, curiosity and reflection.”

Studies show a connection between delayed cognitive development in children with regular exposure to electronic media, she said. With plenty of distractions, devices take young children away from the real world, removing the required stimuli to develop their cognitive muscles.

“The problem with today’s digital media and social connectivity is it takes children away from the adults who are meant to be raising them,” MacNamara said. “It sabotages their ability to be fulfilled by what we (parents) provide.”

MacNamara said children require emotional bonds with their parents. “Children need to be freed from their attachment hunger by adults who are assuming this responsibility.”

Traditionally, children have oriented themselves around the adults in their life, said MacNamara. “But in the last 50 years, kids are increasingly taking their cues, values and bearings from each other.”

When children would rather be with their peers, “they can feel miles away from the adults who care for them. They become difficult to take care of and readily make decisions without adult influence.”

MacNamara suggested several methods of fostering healthy parenting, such as ensuring electronic devices are in high-traffic areas, banning electronics in bedrooms and frequently interacting with children, especially before allowing them access to screens.

“As parents, our job is to be a buffer to the digital world until our children are mature enough to handle it.”

Young children develop optimally when engaged in play, she said. “Play is where the self is truly expressed. It is where growth and development first take place, and preserves psychological health and well-being.”

Once children develop as “separate beings, full of their own ideas, intentions, meanings, aspirations, preferences and values,” they are fit to explore the technological jungle by themselves, she said.

The way parents raise children “has drastically changed with the development and pervasiveness of technology,” said Eileen Gaudet, a St. Ann’s Family Group member who organized the event. “We didn’t grow up with smartphones and all of this technology so it is new territory for most of us.”

As parents, practical skills such as educating and communicating positively “can help us stay connected with our children so they can thrive and develop healthily, and help them navigate this new digital world,” Gaudet said.

(The B.C. Catholic)

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