parenting in the digital age

Parenting in the Digital Age (Part 1)

The playground is barren and the sidewalks are bare.  The melodious sounds of children laughing and playing are no longer dancing in the air.  Fingers are tapping with eyes fixed open wide, immersed in a seemingly silent conversation, a child’s new playground is inside – the Internet, to be exact. How long has your child been living in this virtual world and do you know what he’s doing?

Today’s children are growing up in a digital age; they are known as the “digital generation.”. A mere decade ago parents only had to watch their children in the physical world, and this was no easy task.  Today, at the click of a button, children can connect with complete strangers around the world.  Keeping an eye on children in the virtual world can be an impossible task if one isn’t equipped with the digital media know-how to do so.  While the Web, as an informational superhighway, has many social and educational benefits, risks – serious risks – exist as well.  (And, I can assure you, after a year of doctoral-level research into the benefits and risks of digital media effects on children and teens, that I have grave concerns about the health and well-being on our children.  Because of their digital media diets, their consumption, according to research, is saturated with unsupervised communication that crosses age appropriate barriers.)

Like a spider weaving a web to catch its prey, so the “WWW” can be compared when it comes to those vulnerable to its grasp.  There is a school of thought floating out there right now that suggests “…children are increasingly sophisticated, mature and media savvy…[and] efforts to shield youth from media are too protectionist in nature…[therefore] children should be empowered to take control on their own media experiences” (Children, Adolescents, and the Media, 2009, p.10).  I choose not to believe this mindset.  Children are vulnerable and naïve.  They do not have the cognitive or emotional capacity to process mature forms of communication in messages as do adults.  This, coupled with the fact that media use is at an all-time high, should raise a few red flags.

So, what are kids spending their time in this alternate universe doing?  According to research, the average U.S. child between the ages of 8 and 18 spends almost seven hours a day using media, in terms of exposure.  Of this media consumption, television viewing still takes the number one category for media usage among this age group, despite emerging technologies.  One out of five children, according to a national study, are reported to watch more than five hours of television a day.  A lack of parental supervision and mediation is much to blame for this gluttonous, in terms of a media diet, behavior.  To no surprise, after reading these numbers, a reported 53% of children reported to have no rules in their home about what they can watch or how often and for how long they can watch it.  And of those reporting having rules regarding television viewing, some 23% share that rules are not generally enforced.

In an age where youth are continually confronted with an evolving media environment, where new technologies are emerging daily, and existing technologies are merging and becoming more interactive, parents need to be aware of the latest trends, some of which include grave dangers.  It’s no longer about keeping your doors locked to protect your family from the evils of the world; danger can now lurk from within, even in your children’s very bedrooms.  Does your child have a television in his bedroom?  Does he have a cell phone with privileges that allows him to use the his phone in his bedroom?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, pay extra close attention to what I am about to share in this in-depth look at children, adolescents, and the media. As we explore the lure of advertising, media violence, sexuality, drugs, rock music and music videos, eating disorders, and video games, we will see how this affects the individual and the family.

This article seeks to educate and inform the body about the digital media environment that poses risks to threaten the very core of what we work so hard to protect – our children.  The conclusion of this series will offer parenting advice, in relation to parenting in the twenty-first century, and media usage advice.

We are charged with the task to raise our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6).  We read in Matthew 6:22-23, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.  But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness.  If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great [is] that darkness!”  Be forewarned that much exists today in this world, and virtual world, that your children may have access to that dwells in darkness.  Please stay tuned for part two of this discussion.  Yahweh bless!

By: Amy Pletz

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