The use of technology can cause any of us to become self-centered. It’s so focused on the consumer! If you trawl online one afternoon for a certain kind of T-shirt or new boots, advertisers for T-shirts and boots will appear on your Facebook news feed for weeks. When you buy a book on Amazon.com or borrow one via a library app, book suggestions will appear, tailored just for you based on your buying preferences and books that other people bought who also purchased the book you did. That computer seems to know you and be conforming to your particular needs! The computer reinforces the untruth: It’s all about me!
But believing what the computer seems to be telling us can lead us straight toward ignoring people around us and their expectations of us. We’re so used to having things our own way, we can become inordinately demanding, always wanting what we want. Without intervention, impressionable teens with their brains still developing are at greater risk of negative beliefs and behaviors becoming the norm than those of us who are older.
Teens can scroll social media, paying attention to who likes their posts. They can comment on what they want to. They may ignore those who ignore them. When they do comment on other posts, it’s often with the intent of drawing attention to themselves. They are in control of what they like, where they spend their moments online, and who or what they’ll ignore or pay attention to. Using search engines and certain websites, teens can investigate what they want to. They can ignore what they decide is irrelevant. They may be curious about a celebrity in their current favorite movie. They may look up details about the launch of a new game.
School assignments will engage them for at least a while, but if they decide they’re irrelevant it will be challenging for them to put forth much effort. Teachers tell me about their students’ constant complaints, quick boredom, and how quickly they disengage. This lie that they are the center of their own universe and the priority that everything must be personally relevant are among the causes of high school and college dropout rates being as high as they are. Sometimes students are apathetic because they expect their teachers to serve them and their specific interests and desires; they’ve lost the ability to realize that their teachers have a whole classroom of other students to tend and that they must step up to the plate and take initiative to create forward momentum academically.
Teens can listen to music they like by creating their own radio “stations” at sites like Pandora and Spotify. Rather than purchasing a whole album, they can buy just the songs they want at iTunes. They can download a song they hear and like with an app on their phone. With buds in their ears, they can listen to what they want when they want, as many times as they want, and tune out whatever else is going on and what doesn’t immediately interest them personally.
Similarly, many teens can watch what they want, when they want, on whatever device they want to use. Times have changed a lot since the days when a family had one screen in the home usually a television with three or four stations. If a teen’s parents were home, the teen didn’t even have control over what the family would watch. With cable offering dozens of stations and immediate streaming easily downloadable to any computer or smartphone, family members can watch in any and every room in the house! Movies on Demand, streaming options, the DVR, Redbox, DVDs we own, and pausing live TV—all of these options give power and choice to the individual consumer and thus support the lie that the world revolves around me.
It’s easy to see how these services, as wonderful as they are, contribute to self-centeredness and isolation. We’re together in the same home, but not connected or connecting to each other. We can watch things downloaded onto devices while in public and never need to talk to anyone. The constant availability of shows and movies we want to watch allows us to avoid anything that doesn’t keep us happy. In other words, relational time and opportunities are being usurped by personal media consumption.
So how can parents counteract the influence of this media option overload and the way it can reinforce teens’ misperception that they are the center of the universe? We can move media use into community and away from individual emphasis in many positive ways.
1. We can share music, television shows, movies, and games. Let’s get to know what our teens like and why they like it and invite them to interact with us and the media resources we like. We can make the effort to listen and watch together and discuss the experience.
2. We can help them widen their media choices by growing their interest in specific problems or issues. We can ask them about the problems they may be interested in solving so we can help them see the relevance of content being taught at church and school. To expand their interests, we can introduce them to local mentors who are doing important work, peruse relevant websites with them, and watch related videos online. We can re- mind them during teachable moments that we’re each alive to leave the world a better place by using our gifts and talents, which brings good pleasure to the One who created us.
3. We can help them take initiative in their academics. As teens get older, they need to get ready for real-life workplaces or for real-world, post-high school academic experiences. Their days of having teachers “hold their hands” are soon going to be a memory! Unlike the world of technology, which tailors itself to accommodate and please each consumer, adult life has away of expecting proactive decision-making and initiative. So rather than have teachers or parents closely monitor their homework schedules, teens should be encouraged to take the lead in organizing their time and tasks for academic success. Teens should begin to take responsibility for making their academic and work dreams come to fruition.
Taken from Screens and Teens: Connecting with Our Kids in A Wireless World (Moody, March 2015) by Dr. Kathy Koch.
Dr. Koch is the founder and president of Celebrate Kids Inc. She holds a Ph.D. in reading and educational psychology. Her two previous books are How Am I Smart? A Parent’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences and Authentic Hope and Wholeness: 5 Questions That Will Change Your Life.