Parents of teenagers, who doesn’t tear their hair out watching their child prostrate on his/her bed watching his/her small screen for hours? What to do? How to educate our children to freedom? Where can we find the support we need?
This dear phone!
Who among us, parents of teenagers, does not tear out their hair while watching their child prostrate on his/her bed watching his/her small screen for hours? Who hasn’t threatened to delete this dear object if their child doesn’t voluntarily give it up after an agreed time?
…And who among us has not been told that we also use it too much, under the pretext of work, emails or access to information?
In France and in many other countries, there is a growing concern about this phenomenon of screen addiction that social networks are actively working to increase. So much so that in early March the French Senate will launch a commission of inquiry into the Chinese social network TikTok, very popular among young people, and that “some researchers call ‘digital drugs'” according to an article by Mélinée Le Priol, February 15, 2023 in the newspaper La Croix.
For its part, the European Commission launched on February 7 the 20th edition of the international day for “Un internet sans peur – Safer Internet Day“. It is an annual event to raise awareness of digital uses for young people, families and the educational community, which lasts throughout the month of February.
On this occasion in Paris, during a meeting between French representatives of digital giants (Google, Meta, Twitter, etc.) and teenagers, the astonishment was great in front of the reaction of young people who claim more protection and help in order to leave a form of dependence on social networks, and in particular TikTok. This social network is visited every month by one billion people – including half of the French youth aged 8 to 11 (1).
Some of them voluntarily choose to disactivate the application from their phone in order not to fall into an addiction that they compare to smoking. Indeed, the succession of ultra-short videos proposed without end favors the secretion of dopamine, which generates a sensation of pleasure and hypnotic abandon. Behind this, sleep and memory problems follow, while concentration is reduced, which many parents or teachers observe in young (or not so young) people.
Everyone can of course set the application to limit the notifications or the field of proposals or the time of consultation but we all know how difficult this is and how much determination it takes to put in place.
The use of recommendation algorithms, particularly effective on TikTok, seeks to generate in the user the strongest compulsive desire to stay behind the screen: the time spent on each video, in a few minutes, informs them enough on the tastes of the user to propose “virtual friends” chosen with mathematical rigor more than the taste of sharing! “Humanity watches the equivalent of more than a hundred thousand years of videos on TikTok every day, and 95% of them are recommended by algorithm,” according to engineer Arthur Grimonpont.(2)
It all starts nicely with ultra-short playful videos, then little by little it insidiously leads the person to watch less appropriate content, which he or she will find very difficult to get rid of (gender bias, eating disorders, violence, etc.) because the algorithms have a good memory, explains Rahaf Harfoush, digital anthropologist and member of the National Digital Council (France).
So how do we parents handle this?
We know how difficult it is to accompany our young people in the use of their phone. A precious tool for communication and access to information through the Internet, it is also the place where harmful content is made available most easily in the world.
A few tips to get started:
- Limit the time of exposure to screens: the issue is not to define a time limit in an authoritarian and unilateral way but to involve the child in a process of self-regulation, in order to help them become responsible and teach them to manage the duration of access, especially at night for teenagers!
- Take an interest in your children’s digital practices by engaging them in a dialogue and accompanying them in their discoveries. By helping them develop their sense of discernment in the choice of programs and games.
- Use the screens to develop their creativity by directing your children towards creative activities (learning to draw, to make photographs, origami…)
- Set a good example by imposing self-discipline: an example speaks louder than a thousand words! Remember to disconnect at home in the evening, or at the family table, for your own good and that of your children!
- TV shows, reality shows: it may be a good idea to watch an episode before discussing it with your child to decide together if it is a good idea for him to watch it. Agree on the time and frequency.
- Ensure that there are times in the family’s schedule without outside connections
- If the rule is broken, the adult can decide on a temporary sanction and take the time to discuss the rule with the child.
- The possession and use of electronic devices is not a “right” that the youth can impose. It is a good idea to discuss the interest of getting equipped (and clarify our opinions).
- Help the young person find ways to participate in the financial effort of buying the phone, for example. This is a good way to learn how to save money and to feel more responsible.
- Remember that for adolescents, dialogue is often more instructive than orders when it comes to educating their eyes. The adult remains responsible if there is danger and the child must learn that parental vigilance is motivated above all by their safety. Establishing a dialogue as early as possible is all the more important as the teenager grows up and perceives this monitoring as a form of intrusion!
- Learning to trust and finding solutions together are our best assets to guide our teenager to become capable and autonomous.
But when it becomes too difficult: How can we educate our children without forbidding everything or letting them do everything, especially when we work full time, as a couple or alone? How to talk about it between us, to seek support without shame or prejudice when the child falls into addiction or when the communication link becomes too tense with him, or between us?
CANA Parents as a place of support and discussion
CANA has been concerned with the couple and the family for many years. The programme consists in a series of evenings or meetings between parents to learn, talk and find mutual support in the search for the best in education.
During these times between adults with CANA PARENTS, it is possible to address a number of topics: such as the establishment of quality time between our youth and us, conflict resolution, the exercise of an adjusted authority, access to the digital …
Each culture will recognize its richness and also its weaknesses to be made known or denounced so that the adults of tomorrow, that are our youth, are equipped to discern and make independent choices.
Prayer for each of our children is also a beautiful and effective “weapon” to entrust them to Jesus and to entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit in times of difficulty. The alliance of formation, the use of pedagogical tools, the sharing in truth of what we experience and prayer together is a foundation for this beautiful mission which is ours as parents : the transmission of love and education to freedom.
(1) 54%, according to a study by the association Themis in 2021. TikTok is however forbidden to children under 13 years old.
(2) according to the engineer Arthur Grimonpont. Algocracy. Vivre libre à l’heure des algorithmes, Actes Sud, 22 €.
To go further
CANA Parents: Contact CANA International.