The Barker Institute hosted Toni Hassan on Monday 18 November. Toni is an award winning journalist and writer as well as an emerging artist and human rights advocate. Toni discussed her new book Families in the Digital Age: every parent’s guide. This book highlights the concerns for young people and their increasing dependence on digital devices and the impacts technology is having on identity and mental health.
Toni wrote her book in response to changes that she noticed in her daughter, that according to Toni, coincided with her increased use of mobile technology.
The search for self and understanding of personal identity is a huge part of the adolescent experience. At a time of acute self-consciousness and introspection, when young people are developing their identity, the world has placed in their hands a device that encourages the need for public affirmation and scrutinizes the individual. This can ultimately engender a desperate need to be ‘liked’ and encourages the ‘cult of I’.
Our conversation was wide and varied and touched on the health impacts of technology, including sleep issues, anxiety and social problems such as an inability to cope with real relationships and open communication. Despite all these difficulties that technology can bring young people, there are solutions for families and these were also discussed. Toni spoke of the need to re-engage with open and public space, play, conversation and nature. We also spoke of the incredible benefit of technology and how it has enhanced education, particularly in developing the ‘human’ dispositions that are needed for the future of work. These dispositions are creative and critical thinking, collaboration, connection, communication, problem solving and empathetic relationships. Skills that separate us from technology itself.
Toni advised parents that little people (Junior School) really do not need to have smart handheld devices and I concur with this advice. Hold off as long as you can on giving a mobile device to your children, let them play and build their independence by not following their every move. The issue on banning devices at school was also raised. There is an endless history of evidence to suggest that prohibition does not work. We are working on ways to continue to help our young people to use technology responsibly and we are also putting in place protective measures at school as we partner with Family Zone in 2020. We urge you to consider how to encourage self-regulation of digital media use at home and have good family guidelines from an early age.
Technology is an enabler, it is also a part of our children’s future, but it is not their future. We are working to illicit the best parts of innovation in digital technologies to help our young people to be responsible and caring adults who are committed to creating strong and connected communities and who better the lives of those around them.