As 2021 draws to a close and I emerge from another exhausting day of seeing teenage clients in the office, I reflect on the successes and failures of this past year. Our schools are successfully navigating through a pandemic and most of the globe has returned to in-person learning. Facebook’s duplicity has been exposed to Congress and society at large. And our children are relearning appropriate social contact with their peers—away from their keyboards. Yet, children are still in greater danger than ever before as they enter 2022 because their digital lives have become synonymous with their “real” lives.
Children today are growing up fully digital—they have never known a world that doesn’t have an online answer. We know that this technology assistance can be great, but we also know now, from scientific studies, that it can take a toll. For instance, the data pulled from Gaggle’s State of Student Safety report identified a 131% increase in student safety incidents and a 104% increase in incidents involving violence during the 2020–21 school year. It is this emotional shift that motivated Dr. Westendorf and me to write “Digital Distress: Growing Up Online.”
We felt it was important to alert parents to the truth about the digital world and the dangers it brings. Kids are going to be curious; they are going to explore, and only parents are in that very special place to recognize when it is too much. As adults, we must share this knowledge with our children. Once kids understand the big picture, they can begin to restrain themselves and help educate each other without nearly as much counsel or help from the adults in their lives. This is even more important considering that we adults will always be at least one step behind our kids on technology issues. “Digital Distress” will hopefully help parents shorten that step. The following are some of the issues the book addresses:
- Social media
- Technology addiction
- Gender differences in how technology is used and abused
- Behavioral factors parents should watch for in their children
Most families have struggled with balance, boundaries, and the pain of depending on technology through the pandemic. Most of us have struggled with finding our kids awake late into the night online with their friends on a school night, realizing we probably forgot to change the settings to limit our children’s screen time. There have been those instances where kids are posting their raw emotions, gathering attention from peers for questionable posts, and learning things that perhaps—as parents—we weren’t quite ready to talk about.
Our children should know by now that the things they say online can’t be erased and that cruel words can hurt others. When we present them with the full picture of how those words and actions affect others, the positive changes in online behavior are dramatic. “Digital Distress” is meant to serve as a tool to help parents present their children with the full picture.
As we await the dropping of the ball in Times Square to usher in 2022, one action parents can take immediately is to pay attention to the apps their children download. Apps are not always innocuous. Talk to kids about the content they are watching online and insist that they spend a significant period of their free time away from the digital world. The goal is to teach children to be responsible digital citizens who are thoughtful to others—and who are willing to seek help and understanding when there is trouble or distress.
Happy New Year!