Parenting in the digital world


Dr. Upendra Kaushik
Chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s V.M.Public School, Vadodara

The role of parents is very important in the life of a child. A child learns a lot from his/her parents. But, parenting has its own challenges, here’s how to be a responsible parent in this digital world.

What we need to remember as a parent is that while there is no right or wrong, sometimes our actions depend on the situation and we should rely on our instincts in making decisions. There are certain skills antd instincts we all possess which acts as a guiding force to help us be good parents. Being a parent is not a one-time job but needs constant work and growth. With constant change happening around us in terms of eating habits, advancement in technology, higher levels of stress, living conditions to name a few, we need to keep updating our skill sets to hone our instincts further.

Why Parenting?

Parenting is important:

  • To make the children realize their potentials and become a self-reliant progressive citizen.
  • To make the children value the concept of ‘love’ and develop in them a sense of love and appreciation for each and every component of the atmosphere.
  • To make the children recognize that they belong to a nation of responsible citizens and have certain rights as well as duties to fulfil.
  • To help the children to develop patience for every aspect of life.
  • To make children educated and opt for a right career in life.
  • To help children face the period of ‘stress and storm’ that is adolescence.
  • To teach and help the children to face the challenges in life.
  • To make citizens prompt and efficient enough to take decisions in life.
  • To make children financially stable and teach them the ethics of fair money transactions.
  • To give them life experiences and training for life, if children see good, qualitative and a fair parenting happening with them, they will be able to be good parents in their future life.

Types of parents

We are influenced by how we were raised (incorporating methods or doing the opposite). Parenting styles have been found to predict a child’s well-being in the area of social competence, academic performance and psycho-social development. The four parenting styles are Authoritarian Parents, Permissive Parents, Authoritative Parents, Rejecting/Neglecting Parents.

Studies reveal that the decades-old parenting principle of being an Authoritative Parent is what our kids need today. This style of parenting relies on a balance between parental control and parental warmth. An Authoritative parent strives to have a strong, loving relationship with his children, yet they also provide high expectations and definite limits that help kids meet expectations. Children raised with this parenting style perform better in school, are less hostile and have greater self-esteem, they show more purpose and independence in their activities, are more self-reliant, more socially competent, have positive coping skills and have a clear understanding of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

Strict parenting can turn children into adept liars as they do not feel safe telling the truth, experts have claimed. Psychotherapist Philippa Perry says a child should not be solely to blame for lying as the parenting style has a big impact on their ability readiness to fib.A study by Canadian psychologist Victoria Talwar, using the ‘Peeping Game’ reinforced the claims. Examination two schools in West Africa, one with stricter rules and the other with a more laid back approach, researchers asked children to guess what object was making a noise in the game.

According to game, people are asked to identify the objects by sound only, with the last one bearing no correlation to what it looks like. The researchers then left the room and on return asked the children what the object was, and if they peeked. Talwar found that the number of students from the relaxed school who lied and told the truth was roughly on par with studies from other schools. But those from the strict school were quick to lie, and did it “very effectively.”

Technology bombardment

As a parent, we not only need to keep ourselves updated with parenting skills but also what is happening in our child’s life especially with the drastic changes/advancement in technology. Being online on social networking sites and apps is a part of children’s lives and with technology changing all the time and new apps, games and networks becoming popular day by day it can be difficult to keep up.

The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) recommends monitoring the use of websites and social media platforms children visit by parents. “Technology per se is not bad. It is needed for the overall development of children. But overdependence on it is certainly a worrying trend. Such children often interact less with parents or avoid participating in real life activities,“ said Dr. Kameshwar Prasad, Professor and Head of Neurology at AIIMS.

Digital parenting isn’t different to offline parenting in many ways. What can be tricky is that the online world is often hidden from view and needs to be monitored closely.

While in India, the data on overdependence on technology among pre-teens is scarce, global data suggests even six to ten years olds are hooked to technology that distracts and exposes children to online bullying, among other things. “We have come across many children who are good at solving tough puzzles in online or app-based games. But when they are asked to solve a simple mathematic equation, they find it difficult,“said Dr. Pravat Mandal, Professor of Neuroimaging at National Brain Research Centre. NBRC, he added, plans to take up the project to map the brain activity of children hooked to technology from a young age, and use it to assess the impact of technology.

TOI had reported in February about two brothers who were addicted to gaming and required a month of rehabilitation in the psychiatry ward of Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital. Always engrossed in gaming, they had no time for studies, meals, bathing or changing clothes. They slept fitfully, ignored phone calls and the doorbell, and twice turned a blind eye to robbers cleaning out their house. The most odious symptom of their decline was the habit of defecating and urinating in their clothes while playing.

For the first time, two psychiatrists claim to have proven through research that the obsessive need to post selfies or selftis is a mental condition and those suffering from it may need professional help. Janarthanan Balakrishnan from Thiagarajar School of Management in Madurai and Mark D Griffiths of UK’s Nottingham Trent University, the two researchers have based their claim on the responses they got from 400 young students pursuing management courses at two colleges in India, the names of which have not been disclosed. According to the researchers, they targeted Indian students because India has maximum Facebook users and it accounts for more selfie deaths in the world compared to any other country – with 76 deaths reported from a total 127 worldwide. In this research, results of which have been published in International Journal of Mental Health Addiction, the authors confirm three levels of selftis : borderline, acute and chronic. Borderline cases include people who take selfies at least three times a day but don’t post them on social media. Acute selftis involves people who post them on social media. The chronic sufferers are those who feel an uncontrollable urge to take selfies and post them more than six times daily. In their study involving the students — mostly aged between 16 and 25 years – 40-50% subjects fell in the category of acute selfitis, 34% were in the borderline category and 25.20% suffered chronic selfitis.

The factors responsible for this behaviour comprised environmental enhancement, social competition, attention-seeking, mood modification, self-confidence, and social conformity. Following this study, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has issued an advisory which advocates moderate use of technology. “A lot of us have become slaves to devices that were really meant to free us and give us more time to experience life and be with people. Unless precautionary measures are taken at the earliest, this addiction can prove detrimental to one’s health in the longer term, ” IMA president Dr. K.K. Aggarwal said.

Speaking at the Aligarh Muslim University on ‘Radiation Hazards of Cell Phones’, the scientist Prof. Girish Kumar from Electrical Engineering Department of IIT Mumbai urged the smart phone users not to take lightly the latest warnings pertaining to “hidden dangers” of technology, which stem from indiscriminate use of such devices, also categorically warned people from using smart phones for more than 30 minutes a day and said that the release of free radicals into the human body due to excessive use of cell phones was also causing irreversible damage to male fertility. The scientist stressed that children, in particular, were suffering grave threats to their health as “a child’s skull is thinner and easily penetrated by radiation.” Talking about the adverse impact of indiscriminate use of latest technology on youngsters, Prof Kumar said there was a 400 per cent increase in the risk of brain cancer among teenagers due to excessive use of smart phones. “Such radiation is causing irreversible damage to the human DNA, especially of youngsters. It is also responsible for a steep increase in sleep disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease,” he said.

In the words of Rajiv Makhani, Managing Editor, Technology, NDTV and the Anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3, “Phones today have become omnipotent, omnipresent and omnieverything! In India, there are 300 million smartphone users and growing exponentially. It’s what we use every day for everything. But while the smartphone brings us closer to those who are far away, it separates us from those who are right in front of us. While it makes us connect with more in quantity, it completely destroys the quality of that connection. Teenagers have turned into screenagers, friends have turned into machines and restaurants have become Instagram ATMs.”

The breakdown in socio-cultural and family structures and an intrusive social media have affected the mental health of many young people. Most parents and teachers are unaware of the teenager’s inner world until it reaches a critical stage. Members of the family and friends fail to interact with children and understand their inner feelings and problems. They need to listen, share, empathize and encourage them to come out and tell what bothers them. Parents should advise children knowing their mental state.

A news item in TOI quotes a report from American Psychological Science centre which shows that teens who spend more time using social media and less time on meeting friends in person show higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts and actions. The report urges parents to watch for changes in behaviour and track what kids are doing online. The highlights of the study show that the usage of electronic devices including smart phones for at least five hours or more has more than doubled from 2009 to 2015. These teens are 70% more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported one hour of daily usage. There is a tendency to say that kids are communicating with friends, but monitoring the social media and setting reasonable limit is important.

What schools can do?

The educational institutions should also create a healthy environment by encouraging cooperation instead of competition, prevent bulling and ragging by other children, and also educate them on the evils of some media games like the Blue Whale Challenge. The government should work along with parents and teachers to ensure emotional and social security of children. They can legally ban such media that are harmful to the younger generation Education should be holistic and aim to develop skills to challenge the evils and problems facing them.

Tips to control child’s digital world

There are certain tips that can be used to control the child’s digital world. Some of the things that can be useful are as follows:

  • Make your own family media plan: Media should work for you and within your family values and parenting style. When used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life. But when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, and sleep.
  • Treat media as you would treat any other environment in your child’s life: The same parenting guidelines apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; children need and expect them. Know your children’s friends, both on social networking sites and otherwise. Know what platforms, softwares, apps your children are using, what sites they are visiting on the web, and what they are doing online.
  • Set limits and encourage playtime: It is said that families that play together, learn together. Unstructured and outdoor play stimulates creativity. Make outdoor playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children. And—don’t forget to join your children in outdoor play whenever possible. Media use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits. Family participation is also great for media activities—it encourages social interactions, bonding, and learning. Play a video game with your children. It’s a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette. You will have the opportunity to introduce and share your own life experiences and perspectives—and guidance—as you play the game.
  • Be a good role model: Teach and model through actions because children are great mimics. Limit your own media use. In fact, you’ll be more available for and connected with your children if you’re interacting, hugging and playing with them rather than simply staring at a screen.
  • Know the value of face-to-face communication: Young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in “talk time” is critical for language development. Conversations can be face-to-face or, if necessary, by video chat with a traveling parent or far-away grandparent. Research has shown that it’s that “back-and-forth conversation” that improves language skills—much more so than “passive” listening or one-way interaction with a screen. Swapnil Kamat, CEO of Work Better agrees, “Digital connectivity cannot replace physical connectivity. There is nothing better than personal face to face talk. You cannot rely on the social media to replace personal interactions.”
  • Limit digital media for your youngest family members: Avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 to 24 months other than video chatting. For children between 18 to 24 months, watch digital media with them because they learn from watching and talking with you. Limit screen use for preschool children, ages 2 to 5, to just 1 hour a day of high-quality programming, and watch it with them so you can help them learn from what they’re seeing. Similarly, certain controls need to be kept for your teenager in terms of putting time limits for use and knowing what they are doing online when using technological devices. Kanika Khandelwal Ahuja a Professor of Sociology at Lady Shri Ram College New Delhi says, “Kids are chained to their phones these days. It is obvious that they have picked this up from watching adults. It is becoming tough to separate people from their smart phones, ultimately, impacting our everyday behaviour and conversations”. In the words of Amrit Bhasin, Sociologist, “Spending more than seven hours a day on your gadgets will lead to the breakdown of cognitive abilities, akin to having a severe head injury.” Social media commentator Chetan Deshpande feels, we are a mobile zombie generation. “Staring at our phone 24 x7 has given rise to unpredictable behaviours cybersickness, facebook depression and internet addition disorder.”
  • Create tech-free zones: Keep family mealtimes, other family and social gatherings, and children’s bedroom’s screen free. Turn off televisions that you aren’t watching, because background TV can get in the way of face-to-face time with children. Recharge devices overnight—outside your child’s bedroom to help children avoid the temptation to use them when they should be sleeping. These changes encourage more family time, healthier eating habits, and better sleep, all critical for children’s wellness.
  • Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier: Media can be very effective in keeping children calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channelling emotions.
  • It’s OK for your child to be online: Online relationships are part of typical adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they explore and discover more about themselves and their place in the grown-up world. Just be sure your child is behaving appropriately in both the real and online world. Many children need to be reminded that a platform’s privacy settings do not make things actually “private” and that images, thoughts, and behaviours children share online will instantly become a part of their digital footprint indefinitely. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you’re there if they have questions or concerns.
  • Warn children about the importance of privacy and the dangers: Children need to know that once content is shared with others, they will not be able to delete or remove it completely, and this includes sharing of inappropriate pictures. They may also not know about or choose not to use privacy settings, and they need to be warned that sex offenders often use social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and online gaming to contact and exploit children.
  • Remember that children will be children: Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. But some indiscretions, such as bullying, or posting self-harm images, may be a red flag that hints at trouble ahead. You must observe carefully your children’s behaviour and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help.

Responding to your child’s changing needs can be the toughest part of parenting. What’s important is to remember that good parenting is about unconditional support and love. You don’t have to know everything they’re doing to still be the major influence in their life. Children need to develop their independence, take risks and find their own ways to cope with things. There comes a point when it isn’t possible to keep track of what your child does. You’ll be relying on things you taught them early on, and doing everything you can to make sure they know you’re there if they need you. Media and digital devices are an integral part of our world today and the benefits of these devices, if used moderately and appropriately, can be great, but excessive use can be damaging too. In the end, we need to remember that face-to-face time with family, friends, and teachers plays a pivotal role in promoting children’s learning and healthy development.

To conclude, in the words of Chetan Despande, “To be pragmatic, gadgets, per se, are not bad; it is our dependance on them that is harmful. It has become imperative to incorporate cyber mindfulness (being aware of your online activities and your digital behaviour) in our lives. We must consciously choose to disconnect, for some time at least, as a daily ritual.”

Dr Upendra Kaushik, B Com (Hons), M Com, B Ed, Ph D, D Litt is in school education and administration since 1978. He is a well known educationist, consultant, mentor, trainer, motivator and institution strategist. He has authored 19 books and has rich experience in the field of Curriculum Development, Measurement and Evaluation, Development of Text Books and Instructional Materials. He has been a resource person for training programmes on Value Education, Consumer Education, Population and Development Education, General Management, Marketing Management, Capacity Building for Skill-Upgradation, and associated with CBSE, NIOS,CIE University of Delhi, etc. Since 1990, he has trained more than 2,000 entrepreneurs. He is the recipient of more than 65 accolades at the State, National and International level including ‘National Award to Teachers 2001’ instituted by Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, ‘State Teacher’s Award 2002’ instituted by the Government of NCT, Delhi.

At present, Dr Upendra Kaushik is Chairman, Governing Body, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Vallabhram Mehta Public School, Vadodara; Member Governing Councils and Management Committees of a number of well-known schools of the country.