Family-Friendly Tech for the Digital Age

Handy Tips for the Domestic Church

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The average person uses his or her phone 200 times a day and touches it around 2,600 times.

A University of Maryland study found that students in 10 countries expressed distress when they were disconnected from their phones for 24 hours, and for cyberpsychologists, health concerns like insomnia and anxiety for users are growing.

“The problem with the internet is that it was built on the premise that all users are equal, but that is fundamentally not true,” Mary Aiken, cyberpsychologist and academic adviser to Europol’s European Cybercrime Center, told the Register.

Technology has even been questioned on a legislative level, regarding whether smartphones should be taken into consideration in the court of law as an “extension of oneself,” explained Monique Morrow, president and co-founder of Humanized Internet.

As one of the main themes of the World Meeting of Families, technology pioneers came together to discuss the role of technology in the family during the three-day Pastoral Congress, which was held last month in Dublin, Ireland.

The professionals recognized the battle parents are facing to compete with technology for quality time with their children.

Some may say parents are in a state of desperation to learn the latest social-media applications that are swallowing their children’s attention or add parental controls to divert the excess usage, in addition to implementing safety measures.

Aiken said children are instinctively growing up more tech literate than parents and have learned how to bypass parental locks or shared profiles.

“We need to clean up cyberspace,” Aiken suggested as a result. “If we are going to have children in this domain, then we need to have not only software solutions, but hardware solutions that actually deliver for kids.”

The U.S. military may have found the solution with NIPRNet, a private intranet within the internet that restricts information specifically to that network. Aiken’s solution is to create an intranet for children that delivers “good content.”

“I’m not anti-technology, but I do not want kids exposed to legal but age inappropriate content online, so that would be pornography, self-harm content and violent content,” Aiken said. “These are much bigger problems of governance and moral and ethical issues in cyberspace.”

To counteract, technology specialists stressed the importance of parents spending more quality time with their children.

“It’s important to keep family rules and traditions,” said John Hartnett, the founder and CEO of SVG Partners in Silicon Valley.

However, specialists also expressed the importance of the balance between limiting technology with freedom of technology. Even Bill Gates controls his children’s device usage.

“We have a level of discipline that we need to talk about and have to be cognitive of responsible use,” Morrow said, speaking not only of children, but for parents.

Living in a digital age, parents are starting to get absorbed by technology, as well.

“Complaints have come from kids that their parents are on their phones at the dinner table and not giving the quality time they need,” Morrow said, supporting statistics that kids ultimately want a technology-free dinner table.

They have concluded that many parents must relearn how to become present and involved with their children.

“We can no longer count on the culture to back us up,” said Thomas Lickona, a developmental psychologist. “Parents need to take steps to be more vigilant and intentional.”

Setting up strict parental controls is not the most effective solution for this, Aiken advised. Children must learn how to use technology to avoid covert behavior.

This includes digital safety and teaching the value of privacy settings to self-select followers.

“Children must learn to use technology while maintaining their sense of self,” said Tim Hynes, chief information officer for Allied Irish Bank.

A perfect model is the 11-year-old European Union “Digital Girl of the Year,” Aoibheann Mangan from Hollymount, Ireland. She is an ambassador of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for girls who has spoken at the European Parliament and is the youngest person to run workshops at “MozFest” in London.

“Don’t be afraid of technology, but be afraid of not knowing how to use it,” Mangan said.

She believes that technology can benefit humanity when used safely and with creativity. For her, it is a great way to build relationships with people living far away, to expand the educational possibilities for students and teachers, and to invent resources that help society.    

“Create your own technology,” Mangan said, in response to a concern that technology is stealing creativity from children.

She described how she and her younger brother created an invention using “old-fashioned materials” like cardboard and masking tape. “There are so many possibilities.”

Other positive features technology supporters discussed were the ability to bring back memories for people who suffer from dementia, applications to prevent cyberbullying in schools, and helping farmers to produce more with less.   

They also encouraged the Church to get involved and to take the leading role in helping people to find technological solutions to bear the Church’s values.

As Hartnett said: “The power of social media has a big bearing on today’s values. The Catholic Church should take a lead role to help people.”

Rachel Lanz is a Register staff

writer based in Rome.

She blogged

from Dublin last month.