This is Part 2 of a special five-part Global Life Q&A with Simone Courso. Click here for Part 1: On Self-Care.
As a PCI Certified Parent Coach®, I’m passionate about the ways in which parents and kids can enjoy the benefits of information technology without a loss of the precious self-identity of the individual and of the family. As a professional teacher and parent myself, I’m immersed in the realities of the digital age in which we now engage, relate and communicate in both our personal and work lives.
In both of my professional roles, as well as in my role as a parent myself, I’m continually learning how to navigate work and play using technology with a more conscious and humanistic sensibility. Most importantly, parenting with child brain and identity development in mind is high on my list of life long learning priorities.
What kinds of obstacles are your kids headed for in our globalized, digital era? How is the unmindful use of technology having an impact on relationships in the home, at school and within the mental landscape of your child?
I asked Simone Courso to share her professional insights and experience working with youth immersed in digital technologies with the Global Wise Parenting community.
Q: A child’s self-identity development is often significantly influenced by formal schooling, media and peer groups. What insights can you offer to parents about the kinds of challenges a child may face in the 21st century?
A: Based on my 18 years of counseling students in middle school and high school I think that the main challenges of our youth are technology and the influence of the media, particularly in terms of body image, stress, bullying and sometimes extreme loneliness and sadness.
In many schools across the world, students have access to their own laptop, and even if they don’t they probably own a smartphone or an iPad.
If you’re the parent of a tween, then by all means, make sure that you establish clear guidelines together with your child, your partner, and your childcare worker if applicable, as to how the computer will be used, for what purpose, and for how long. Many children tell their parents that they are doing homework when, in fact, they are on other sites of playing games.
Do check the legal age for joining certain social websites. Would you let your child drive a car before the legal age or without sending him/her to driving school? Probably not, so before you allow your child to use a computer or a smartphone, make sure that you establish some very clear guidelines about usage, privacy, what kind of information can be shared, what your child would do if he/she was bullied or if a friend of theirs was. If your child is young, insist that you have their password, that you be their friend on social websites, but DO NOT make comments on these websites if you don’t want to run the risk of being “un-friended”.
Try to stay abreast of new websites. Children don’t use Facebook very much anymore because most adults are on it. At the moment Instagram is popular. There are websites (Ask dot fm for example) that can cause a lot of pain and damage because the person posting doesn’t have to create an account and can remain completely anonymous. Sadly, several of my students were the victims of very hurtful and nasty messages, messages that you wouldn’t even think someone could come up with, messages that could definitely lead someone into depression or possibly suicide ideation.
Time published an article written by Rachel Simmons about Girls and Instagram. Take a minute to read it, it might be an eye opener. If you’re the parent of a teenager or adolescent, I would follow some of the advice given by Dr. Larry Rosen in iDisorder. Instead of constantly looking over your teenager’s shoulder, tell him/her that you would like to have a look at his/her Facebook or Instagram pages for example , but give your child 24 hours. This will give your child time to clean up their timeline, will make them feel like it’s less of an intrusion, and by looking at what his/her friends are saying, you will get an idea of what your son/daughter is up to. Dr. Rosen also promotes technology free dinners, times in the family when no one will be using any technology, even if it’s only for half and hour. Get involved in activities with your child that don’t involve technology.
During my years as a middle school counselor, I often spoke to my students about body image. Boys and girls are victims of what the media portray, and just like us, they sometimes forget that it is far from the reality and strive to look like the men and women in advertisements, which is a scary thought. Girls are more at risk but in Grade 7 ALL boys mentioned steroids as something they would take to look better. With a colleague at my last school, we invited young girls to discuss what it actually means to be a girl. We helped them move away from appearance only and focus on positive ways of expressing themselves and feeling good about themselves. This is something parents can help with too. Sadly excessive dieting can lead to eating disorders, and the sooner you step in, the higher the chances are to empower the person and teach them self-acceptance.
The statistics about bullying and particularly cyber bullying are shocking and there are numerous accounts of teenagers who were driven to depression and sometimes suicide because they were harassed online and in person. I would say that it’s almost inevitable for children growing up these days not to be victims or perpetrators at one time or another. When children are on their mobile phones or behind their computers they forget that they are dealing with an actual person and might make a comment without thinking about the impact it might have on the receiver. Teaching empathy should start early and pro-active parents will talk to their children on a regular basis about what they should post, what they would do if they were victimized or saw that one of their friends was in that situation.
Feelings of loneliness in children have always existed, and as a counselor I always dreaded birthday parties to which not every child was invited. I know that some schools make it mandatory to invite everyone otherwise there can’t be a party. With the current technology a child who doesn’t have friends will not only feel lonely at school but will also go home and see photos of events to which he/she was not invited.
I can’t speak much about what’s happening in public schools at the moment, but know that students in some international private schools around the world find themselves under a lot of pressure to achieve excellent grades in order to get into prestigious universities. Besides working for grades, they are often over-scheduled and attend many activities, whether it’s sports, tutoring, music lessons or other extra-curricular classes. In other words, children don’t have time to be children anymore. This causes stress and while a certain amount of stress increases motivation and drives people to try harder, sometimes it becomes overwhelming.
If you add stress to problems at home, problems with friends, striving to fit in or bullying, it makes sense that some children will experience some sadness and at times start thinking about suicide.
Simone Courso was born in Alsace, a province in the Eastern part of France. With her husband and her three children she has lived in Switzerland, the Principality of Liechtenstein, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Simone has a Masters Degree in Linguistics and in Counseling Psychology, and is certified with the National Board of Certified Counselors in the US. For the last 18 years she has been working in international schools counseling and supporting students and their parents mainly in the areas of cross-cultural adjustment, difficulties with relationships, stress, sadness and self-harming. In her free time, Simone likes to travel and explore new countries and cultures, read, watch movies, or simply spend time with her family.