Raising children in the digital age
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Raising children in the digital age

A child learns how to ride a balance bike at the cycling circuit around Suvarnabhumi airport. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
A child learns how to ride a balance bike at the cycling circuit around Suvarnabhumi airport. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Parents in the 2000s are not taught parenting with addictive technology. The examples did not exist, and a comprehensive guide still needs to be written. We know parenting is a series of successes and failures with unsure outcomes. Presence (physical and mental) matters; however, technology is eroding parents' presence. Parents, with good intentions, are sidelining the tasks required to grow a well-rounded, responsible, and contributing member of society by farming out their duties to technology and drowning themselves in distractions. It is thus time to start teaching parents how to become better parents.

Family structure has constantly been changing from extended communal groups to an extended family or nuclear family, single parent to mixed households. The support that existed before may not exist in the earlier form (e.g., active grandparents). My students come to classes with problems that should have been handled at home. However, support exists in a different form today (e.g., communal groups). Parents need to access these resources and support to help connect with their kids and correct mistakes.

Parents are ignoring thousands of years of learning in trying to do good. Being present and aware of one's surroundings has been taught directly and indirectly since men started roaming the plains of Africa. All religious textbooks have codified this in one form or another. Yet, we are experiencing youths who are barely aware of their surroundings, their "friends", and their purpose in life.

The ability to be with oneself is a crucial element in human evolution. However, distractions caused by information overload mean that youngsters ignore even themselves without being aware of the injury they are causing themselves. Mobile phones have taken the place of human beings as childminders.

Walking, and even better yet, in the sunshine and having a conversation, is crucial to one's physical and mental well-being. Yet parents discourage these activities, such as providing electric scooters and insisting on no walking or even biking to school. Or by saying to be afraid of sunburn despite sunlight being the best vitamin D source. Simple interactions are avoided with kids kept at home.

Sterile environments (we cannot expose our kids to germs!) have already been shown to retard kids' physical development. The lack of crunchy green vegetables contributes to breathing and other digestive problems. And now, with a lack of social connections, starting at home, poor parenting has generated a wave of mental health problems.

Addressing this parental problem would have many benefits. Children learn better, families bond better, society becomes better, and people's economic situation improves. Parents are fighting a fire by trying to drown the fire in several types of fuel. Addressing the root cause of the fire would work better. Presence will make things better.

Humans are resilient beings with thousands of years of success. Despite the exponential growth in technology in the past few hundred years, we should not be distracted from all the progress. Instead of accelerating our extinction, we should use technology to extend our evolution. And this is done by using technology appropriately.

Parents need to learn to control their technology usage and make this learning a family affair. Connect with their kids. With parents setting an example and being responsible, children will learn positive behaviours, such as being comfortable doing difficult things. Family activities in the early morning sun might be a start. Building authentic connections helps build the individual and society. Everyone benefits.

Mariano Miguel Carrera, PhD, is a lecturer at the International College at King Mongkut's University of Technology, North Bangkok.

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