Digital Dilemmas – Raising Children in the I-Age

Digital Dilemmas – Raising Children in the I-Age

Sunmarke’s School Counsellor, Alistair Dale, looks into the effects of the technology and gaming world that our children are growing up in.

Read more for his parenting advice and tips on raising children in the I-Age.

The festive season is just behind us, and in my family home, my children had asked for gifts consisting of digital screens to surf the net, watch films, play games and communicate with friends all over the world. We are clearly in the age of instant gratification with everything at our fingertips. This form of access to everything and anything comes with parental dilemmas, barriers and challenges.

The birth of the Iphone in 2007 was revolutionary in the way that we accessed the internet. It put the internet in everyone’s pocket and changed everything we knew – some for the good, some for the bad. There’s no need to fire up the desk top computer and wait for the router to connect or WiFi – we all have instant access anywhere anytime. It’s changed the way we shop, communicate, take pictures, how we get to and from places, bank and so much more.

Technology is only going to become more advanced – Statics show that, on average, more than 1000 new apps (Apple IOS) are released daily. Our children are far more aware of these shifts in trends and they have peer interaction and support to become experts in no time. I conducted a survey within Secondary (Year 7 – 13), one question asked: “What Apps do you use the most?” – Out of 80 responses, only one individual responded that they use Facebook as one of their main apps. Showing my age, the rest of the apps were ones that I don’t have or have little or no knowledge about. Where I thought I was at the cutting edge of the digital age has only shown me that I’m nowhere near following the trends of today’s youth.

Apps and games development today are designed to engage us by rewarding us with the feeling of pleasure or excitement in our brain (Mesolimbic Pathway). This feeling is a chemical release called ‘Dopamine’, the pleasure chemical or ‘Yes’ chemical. Developers of apps and games know this and focus on three human behaviours to keep us hooked:

Social – We are drawn to making connections with people. These connections help us be successful. Think of social media apps and the notification (Ping) that we get when someone sends us a message. A signal is sent to our brain, a reward, it’s like a tingling sensation you get for just a hundredth of a second. Someone needs you, there’s new information, you’re important – It feels good!!

Curiosity – Risk-taking behaviour which is important for success, it makes us aim for things that are difficult. Take video games, for example, it’s normal for teenagers to want new experiences, they need to explore their own limits, abilities and boundaries. They are always trying to get to a new level, beat their own best score or outplay a friend. It all part of becoming independent young adults – although it can be stressful for parents as we set the boundaries but their risk-taking behaviour challenges these on a regular basis.

Distraction – We are programed to be easily distracted by things that we are not concentrating on. In terms of evolution, this is a survival response. Notifications and colors used on handheld devices and games are designed to distract us from what we are doing and they hit all our senses. We have audible sounds that draw our attention, we have visional notifications that appear on the screen in bright colors and we have physical distractions from the vibration. We can’t help but be distracted, curious and wonder if it’s someone that needs you or some new information that you can’t do without knowing.

Gaming, in particular ‘Fortnight!’ is very popular. Both my children are mad about it and they are only two individuals out of the 125 million gamers playing it. Recently in 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified ‘Gaming Disorder’ as a mental health condition. It’s not as simple as that really, as the American Psychiatric Association disagrees and says it needs more clinical research. Researchers are still debating if you can be addicted to video games the same way you can to smoking, alcohol or drugs. For decades addiction was seen only as physical. That was until 2013 when ‘gambling’ was reclassified to the same category as physical addictions. This was the first time a behaviour was put in the same category as drugs or alcohol. According to research, when you look at the reward pathways of some people with gaming problems, they are the same as those with physical addiction.

Games are designed to reward you at just the right time, motivating you to try again, go back for another turn. The next ‘level up’ or ‘Skin’ is just around the corner! So when kids can’t put down the controller, is it because they are addicted or is it motivation that is driving their behavior? It can be easier getting your motivational needs met in the gaming world than the real world.

Gaming isn’t all bad – research shows that fast pace/action games can have a positive impact on the gamer by increasing faster and more accurate attention, quicker visual processing, increase in creativity & makes them better at social interaction through cooperative/competitive play – 70% of players (fortnight) play with other people. These are all transferrable skills in the real world!

At the end of it all, researchers are divided about video games. So it’s down to you as parents to know your children, communicate & understand if it’s motivation that is driving their behavior or if it goes beyond motivations. As a parent and School Counsellor, there is concern that if parents don’t educate themselves in this digital era we may be left behind while our children become more tech savvy and we become completely unaware of the world our children are accessing.

Communication is key.

Here are some ways you can help your children to have a more conscious relationship with technology: 

  • Talking about behaviour and consequences together
  • Talking about values
  • Working out agreed rules
  • Helping your child handle peer influence
  • Keeping an eye on your child
  • Staying connected to your child
  • Encouraging a wide social network

To gain a much deeper understanding of the effects of technology on self-identity, cognitive abilities, relationships, and health in children, as well as developing a healthier relationship with technology, please attend our workshop with Dr. Saliha Afridi from The Light House Arabia on 23rd January at Sunmarke School, 7:50-9:30 am.

Click here to save your seat for this free workshop

Alistair Dale
School Counsellor
Sunmarke School

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