In the Digital Age, children are being exposed to messages that teach them apathy, not empathy. Today’s media and culture can confuse kids, leading them to believe that it’s okay to behave in ways that demonstrate a lack of basic care and respect for other people. To routinely turn away from and against bids for attention and intimacy is all too easy online. Actions have a great deal of potential to hurt others, especially other kids.
If left unexamined, constant exposure to online culture may impede the development of social skills. The inevitable transference of online social habits (frequent participation in quick, short exchanges that substitute efficiency for complexity and depth) can cultivate tactlessness. Such thoughtlessness is a perfect set-up for a life of unhealthy, disconnected relationships.
In the Digital Age, indifference is normal. Think back to the last time you were forced to watch your conversation partner “multitask.” Their eyes went back and forth between your face and the screen of their phone. The nonstop interruptions raised the hair on the back of your neck. Think about how you felt. Now think about how you might have felt if you were six.
As an adult in this situation, you have the ability to identify your emotions and quickly put a finger on the source of your displeasure. A young child or teenager may not.
Having been raised in the culture of the Digital Age, older kids may understand. They may not be surprised by their conversation partner’s behavior, having learned from previous experiences to expect nothing less. However, their feelings may not have “learned.” Kids may not have learned to recognize what, in particular, is causing them to feel upset. They may not yet have learned the skills necessary to process rudeness differently, according to the new social conventions.
It’s far too easy for young ones to get lost in the social ambiguity of the Digital Age. They stop thinking of inconsiderate behaviors they see online as rude or unacceptable. They may begin to doubt the validity of their expectations, experiences, and feelings. They may begin to question their understanding of what it means to be present with each other. They may also begin to judge themselves.
In Emotion Coaching, parents focus on healthy problem-solving in upsetting situations. Your conversation must take into account the challenges intrinsic to the high-tech world your kids are growing up in. Think of ways the endless exposure to social media and communication technology in the Digital Age may get in the way of the lessons you try to teach so that you can tailor them accordingly.
Read more on the Digital Age blog series.