Parent, teenager, smartphone. Hostile trio or chance?

Padre Rosinski

Chaplain’s Corner

Padre Marcin Rosinski

Is technology guilty of everything?

Parents of today’s teenagers have the ease to diagnose the causes of educational failures that no generation had before. Technology is the fault for all, and smartphones are responsible for all evil. Because of them, children stay in their rooms, do not play sports and fail at school. Also, they do not want to talk to adults. Are those fair statements?

I’m not saying that technology is not a challenge. Sure it is, and we’re doing it for the first time in history. Previous generations did not have to face a device that gives children access to all the world’s content, 24 hours a day. Simon Sinek, the inspirator and creator of many important modern social concepts, says that the smartphone is like a dopamine pump, carried in a pocket. You can reach it at any time without having to deal with difficult feelings, boredom, or fear. Like a box of addictive pills, which can have the effects of moving into another world and let you forget about loneliness or stress.

However, the habit of reaching for smartphones, after all, is experienced by adults as well. Let us not forget that in homes where teenagers in the 80s had TV sets that reigned became the background of meals and meetings with guests, and often effectively prevented paying attention to each other. In turn, moments of attention focused on oneself – might also been typically known to be the generation of parents who experienced “breaks” in the form of a cigarette break.

Today, a smartphone takes place of both – background, and breaks, a moment to calm down and rest. On the one hand, it is needed, on the other – as teenagers experience – moments can easily change into long hours. So, what might inspire wars when we combine the participation of parents, teenagers and their devices.

Remembering the wise opinion that “struggle” really strengthens what we are fighting with, I really like the idea of changing perspective. To some extent, we need to acknowledge that technology has become a part of life and it is useful at times. So instead of making a son or daughter think that he or she is wasting his/her time, it is worth asking: “What did you find interesting on the internet today?” If we try to get out of the role of evaluator and stand as a curious and learning person, there is hope that children will let us into their world.

We can also be very surprised that when they spend time online, they learn new things (caring for pets, drawing, assembling electrical systems or foreign languages). They are up to date with information and news. They take part in a social discussion on current topics or in matters that are of particular interest to them. That they contact their friends to prepare a birthday surprise for a friend or a school project. That they have their favorite artists.

It is impossible to get closer to the world of important matters for them, standing on their side. How often does the parent have a problem alone with his smartphone and get angry at him/herself for “wasting time?” Perhaps it is worth realizing then that there is a part of our time that will be wasted anyway. What’s more, our brain needs moments to enter the phase of relaxation. Sometimes it’s really better to watch a mindless Facebook video than to carry the deadly seriousness and tension of the day.

Of course, we need to ask ourselves (as people and as parents) whether technology is the only form of entertainment and whether we can find and suggest to teenagers some other forms of entertainment, such as; venturing the outdoors, reading a book, pursuing passions that may be recreational like finding a hobby. Those could play a big part in affecting others through their participation. Perhaps, however, the atmosphere at home might be so tense, and the adult so alienated from the relationship with the child, that the phone becomes the only close world in which autonomy is possible and allows the young man or woman to survive their difficulties.

I believe that before falling into addiction to technology, children are saved by a good home climate, closeness to parents, conversation and interest in their experiences and problems. It also saves the approach if smartphones are not regarded as rewards and if they are time regulated.