Tech Support V1: Form vs Function

I am finally sitting down to write my least whimsical, and most requested, series of blogposts for parents about...


SCREENS


I have lived through one of the most revolutionary transformations of access and delivery of information that the world has seen. I had rotary phones as a child and am now working on a phone that folds in half. My dishwasher texts me when the cycle is finished and we just injected our puppy with a chip to find him if he runs away. I am drowning in so much data and technology, I can barely stand it. I bought a truck with window rollers, just to balance it all out.


I just found a glitch on my website platform that took thirty minutes and three devices to figure out the cause. A rep at the company responsible actually said:


"We aren’t given access to know how this works”.

"Access by who?", I say.

"Access by the system".


It's either Skynet or the Matrix.


So is this actually a revolution of information access like we thought it would be in the nineties? We were so excited. We believed that if the world could access information, it would lift us from poverty, war and hopelessness. We were supposed to come out of the dark ages.


In much of the world, I believe this still to be true. The principles of unfettered access to knowledge hold true, but they do not apply the same everywhere. In a society of relative privilege to many others, this unfettered access has not lifted us out of poverty, war and hopelessness. Because we didn’t have that like others did. Our privilege and comfort has caused that instead of seeking knowledge, we seek fantasy. Instead of seeking freedom and happiness, we seek acceptance and connection.


All the research is clear…we know less facts and are less happy now than before this revolution of information access occurred. Us mental health folks could have predicted this, though, and probably did. Because handling truth and generating happiness doesn’t actually come from access to information. Ask anyone with OCD or anxiety; more information makes it worse.


So what about our kiddos? They have access to all of this information and are drowning in the technology that provides it. I run thirty client hours a week...roughly sixty percent of which are teens, children and/or their parents. Some of my families have been with me for twelve years and we have bumped along this road together. I have not had one week that I have not had to discuss, manage, respond to and address screens. More than drugs, sex, alcohol, rebellion, divorce, mental health, peer issues, school; nothing compares to the impact that this has on this generation (defined as anyone who had access to a computer or phone in their childhood or adolescence).


So here goes the beginning of several posts on this topic. Get ready parents.


FORM vs FUNCTION


The best thing you can do for yourself as a parent who is handling this issue is immediately stop referring to the problem as one of “screens”. The screen is attached to a device of some kind which has no innate function but the one we give it. It is like a parent pulling the radio out of the car because they are upset with the channel the kid has turned it to. Or throwing the television away because they watched South Park. When we start to go to war with a screen, we lose any teachable or meaningful moments we can have with our children about the real, human issues. And they know it. They see right through us. And then all we get from them is their tolerance...at best. If your child has become tuning out your messaging...it is possible it needs some work.


When we inaccurately label the problem as one of screens, we are using a short-form phrase that caught traction about 15 years ago to capture anything digital that we believe is not irl (in real life). Except that is all the messaging we give then… “this isn’t real life, just do less of it and it will be better”. But it is real life, actually. Their friends, their school, their bus route, their fashion choices, their socialization is, at least in some part, on the other side of that screen. Someday their bills, their jobs, their car registration, their house building plans, their wedding photos…all of it will be on or around that screen just like it is for us. By three years old, you have likely given your child your phone, or an old no-service phone to play a game on in a waiting room. Yes…I see you…I know you have. By that age, they have already seen the large television screen on the wall and learned there are miniature versions in everyone’s hands. At daycare, they are likely given learning and development games on an iPad. By elementary school they have gone to several movie theatres and seen the really big screens. Around this time, they have started Zoom calls with their grandparents. Around about grade five, your elementary school is going to start to have more kids than not with phones in their backpacks. By grade six, your school will likely require your child to have a device that delivers your child’s access to education and is their platform for grading and communication. By grade 8, your child will either have a phone in their hand or be using their friends’ phone to access anything they want.


I am using my screen right now.


So as soon as we breeze by our child's room and see her looking at her phone screen, we have an immediate emotional response to the form of the thing we see in her hand. “Get off that screen”. But we have missed what the child might be actually doing with the function of the thing. Easy example...my child's last reading assignment was sent out in Teams and she has the app on her phone. And if she didn't have access to her phone, she would have had to use her laptop which the school requires she have. That is also a screen. And if we had not gotten her one of those, she would have been given an iPad or library computer at school to complete her reading assignment. So it is absolutely futile, irrelevant, tension-building and conflict-creating to seek out a battle with screens. If I walk by that room and say “you spend too much time on screens” …she has every right to think I have lost my mind. I have just given her a negative response to her doing her homework. I am building her case for her that I am reactive for no good reason.

It is time to level up here parents. Our children deserve a deeper reflection and more meaningful leadership from us on this issue. We have to stop thinking about the screen’s form and need to tackle its function. Because they do everything. And they give our children access to everything. The question as you walk by your daughter’s room can’t simply be “how long have you been on that thing”? It is worth sitting down and showing curiosity about what she is doing with that thing. And maintaining presence and awareness about what is possible to do with that thing.


There has never been a greater need for connected parenting and oversight of our children because the world is now truly at their fingertips. The quantity and quality of messaging, modelling and connection in the home has long been known to be the key protective factor for children against negative influence from the world. So it is time to utilize it.


When I support parents who are struggling with this issue…and they all are…I force us beyond the device and access to the more substantive issues. What do you want to say to your daughter about pornography? Because if she is 15, I guarantee you she has seen it. What do you want to say to your children about gender and sexuality? Because I guarantee if your child is 10, they have gotten most of their information about that from TikTok influencers. At 8, most children have already been exposed to more visual violence through video games then they have love scenes in a movie. Is that the balance you really want in your home? Do you really want your son to feel more habituated to murder than sex? Have you considered that you might have feelings about dating online and that that is how most start out now? If any of things are a consideration and you feel you want to message to your children on them, I guarantee you have started later than what is ideal. Open honest conversations about these issues with all of these topics need multiple focused conversations across your child’s developmental years. They need to have your voice in their head before the experience occurs and they listen to someone else's.


We have to get a handle on what our values are in our homes. We must inform those values with real data and information that we have sought out as adults. We must start getting to these issues before our children do because they are getting there fast. And where there is a gap in messaging, modelling and values from home, there are thousands of gap-fillers out there at the touch of your child’s fingertips. Prior to the information revolution and the access to all of this, the gaps from home were filled in at school, by the extended family and in society. That is no longer the case. So let’s get ourselves straight here as parents and be miles ahead of our kids. We are going to discuss:


  • All socials apps, their pros and cons

  • Parental controls and policing safety

  • Messaging, modelling and values

  • Engaging with your child’s school or not

  • Video games

  • Individualizing our approach with the unique child you have

  • Special approaches for children with disabilities or mental health diagnosis

  • Sexual exploitation, sexting, doxing and revenge porn

  • Dating online and why you likely need to change your mind about how you think of it

  • Pornography

  • Safety, the concept itself and the lies about it

  • A parenting approach about all of it that has purpose and value

  • Utilizing the differentiated two-parent approach and abandoning the “same page”

  • The intersection of mental health and social media

  • Self-harm and suicidality online

Stay tuned, I am going to cover it all…

 

Britta Regan West

MA, RCC, TITC/CT-CFST

Clinical Counsellor, Clinical Traumatologist, Compassion Fatigue Specialist



59 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All