Parents vs gadgets: what the virtual world gives our children


We fear that modern technology will have a negative impact on children’s ability to focus, learn and retain attention. We feel powerless in the gadget world and are ready to take extreme measures. There are many videos on the Internet about how parents break into a child’s room and smash his console or computer.

Of course, most moms and dads do not act so radically: more often we simply take away gadgets or strictly limit the time of their use. But the problem is not in the technology itself, and strict rules are not the solution, says Nir Eyal, a professor at Stanford Business School.

The fact is that gadgets help children satisfy important psychological needs, which are often not met in any other way due to the peculiarities of our era.

“Our body needs macronutrients to function properly. Also, the human psyche has its own needs. And when kids don’t get the ‘psychological nutrients’ they need, they start to behave at risk or take advantage of the solutions the virtual environment provides, ”says Nir Eyal.

If we want to raise successful children who know how to set goals and achieve them, who are capable of closeness and sincere communication, we should give them what their psyche requires.

Here are three basic needs that are increasingly being met by gadgets today.

1. The need for autonomy

Allowing your child to independently control the time spent with gadgets? As unrealistic as it sounds, according to Nir Eyal, this approach can be a great solution. The expert refers to the research of psychology professors Marciela Correa-Chavez and Barbara Rogoff, who worked with children from different Mayan tribes living in Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras.

It turned out that those children who are less educated according to Western standards (centralized schools, many lessons and circles, total employment) demonstrate more stable attention and learning. Scientists attribute this to the fact that in Mayan villages, children are traditionally given a lot of freedom. The child independently sets a goal for himself and achieves it, and moms and dads simply support him.

The Western model assumes that the parents come up with a goal for the child, and then offer various rewards in order for him to achieve it. Again, formal schooling does not in principle give the child the right to make an informed choice. Then why should children learn to self-control if they are always controlled by adults?

What parents can do: instead of imposing strict rules on how gadgets are used, we can help children define boundaries. The goal of adults in this case is not to control the child, but to explain why screen time should be limited.

The more often you make joint decisions, the more often you work out behavioral strategies together, the more likely the child will listen to your opinion.

Parents vs gadgets: what the virtual world gives our children

2. The need for competence

As adults, we rarely think about how great it is to be able to do something. We often act on the machine and therefore do not notice how cleverly we park, what delicious lasagne we cook, how great it is for us to darn our favorite woolen socks. In general, skills, even such simple, everyday ones, are great. And the feeling that we can and can do a lot grows along with our ability to achieve success, with the development of skill.

Unfortunately, children today have few opportunities to enjoy their own progress, says Nir Eyal. Children too often receive messages about their own incompetence. And the point is not only that we do not allow them to cut the greens (“The knife is so sharp!”) Or hammer a nail into the loose stool (“You will definitely hit your finger”).

School tests, all kinds of standardized attestations do not take into account that two children of the same age can be at completely different levels of development. And if children are not good at school, Nir Eyal believes, if they do not receive the necessary support from parents and teachers, they may think that it is simply impossible to have competencies. If so, why bother?

Not receiving recognition either in the classroom or at home, but wanting to feel like the best in something, children endlessly play computer games, receiving new titles and awards in the virtual world. Unfortunately, many games are harmful to children or not age appropriate.

Game developers study child psychology and know that a child (and an adult) likes it when more and more people subscribe to it, when they like it. All this provides a need for competence when it is difficult to satisfy it in other areas.

What parents can do: we are able to shift the focus of attention from the child’s studies, from his achievements in sports and art to him, to stop pressing and try to make sure that he is not paralyzed by the expectations of others.

Talk to your child frankly, find out what he really likes to do. Help him achieve the desired level of competence in an area that is enjoyable, but not addictive or impaired.

3. The need for belonging

Both adults and children want to know for sure that they are important to others, that they are appreciated and loved. From time immemorial, games have helped satisfy the need for belonging and at the same time pump their social skills.

But in the modern world, the very nature of these games is no longer the same as even 20-30 years ago. Let’s remember our childhood. After school, we could run around the schoolyard, in good weather we could not be driven home until dark – all this helped to create close social ties.

Today, parents restrict and control outdoor play, fearing that children will encounter dangerous people, get hurt by bullies, or be hit by a car. The amount of free time that could be devoted to games is rapidly dwindling. And this by no means helps children turn into creative, self-confident adults who are able to adequately perceive others.

It makes sense that a kid who can’t go outside to play tag, who has to follow a rigid and thoughtful schedule, would use technology to keep in touch with others, says Nir Eyal.

What parents can do: we can allow them to spend more time with their peers. Friendships, walks and play together can help satisfy the need for belongings, and children do not have to obsess too much about communication on social networks and in applications. Dating like this can be dangerous.

Help children meet their psychological needs in the real world – and they will have less interest in the virtual world. And strict prohibitions and restrictions will definitely not help mend relationships and will only push the child to seek joy on the Internet.

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