Bernardo M. Villegas
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Educating in the New Technologies (Part 2)

          Parents can guide their children in the use of the new technologies when they know their interests well.  This has nothing to do with spying but generating enough trust and confidence for them to talk freely about what are attractive to them and actually, where appropriate, spending time with them and sharing in their interests.  It is common for young people to have blogs or to use social networks.  Oftentimes, their parents are unaware of this and may have never looked at what they write there, so that children may think that their parents do not care or do not like what they are doing.  It is worthwhile to look from time to time at what their children are writing and doing on the Internet.  Commenting on them can be a source of enrichment for family life and conversations.

         Adolescence is very appropriate for instilling the value of austerity in the use of devices, gadgets and software (apps, etc.).  Parents should teach their children how to live detachment, not only because of the cost of hardware and software, but also so as “not to be dominated by feelings, going from one thing to another without discernment in search of what is fashionable” (Pope Francis, Address in Basilica of St. Mary Major, 4 May 2013).   Parents have to counteract the aggressive sales pitches of those manufacturing these devices.  To explain the reasons for self-restraint in the time they spend on social networks video consoles, online games, etc., the parents do not need advanced technical knowledge.  In many cases the advice children need for their behavior in digital environments is the same required for their behavior in society:  good manners, modesty and decency, respect for others, guarding their sight, self-control, etc.

         The most relevant cardinal virtue is that of temperance.   In choosing the right electronic devices, even when they are offered free through the usual marketing gimmicks, one still has to consider not only their appeal or utility, but also whether they are in keeping with a temperate lifestyle.  Will this help me make better use of my time, or will it simply be a source of distractions.  Do the additional features justify the purchase of a new device, or could I continue to make do with what I already have?  In the actual use of the device, do we practise moderation?  Emails, for example, can be useful to stay close to friends and relatives, but if they become so numerous that they entail constant interruption in our work or study, we could possibly be falling into frivolity and wasting time.  To avoid these dangers, self-mastery will help us to overcome our impatience and to leave the answer to an email or a text for later, so we can devote ourselves to a task requiring concentration, or simply pay attention to the person to whom we are talking.  The instinct for instant gratification in responding to digital messages can also be an excuse to give way to our laziness in being  involved in serious and demanding intellectual work.

           As regards the threat to privacy, one of the distinguishing trends of the digital age, children must be reminded that what is published in the Internet is almost always accessible to countless people anywhere in the world, and that almost all actions carried out in the digital environment leave a trail that can be accessed through searches.  Just witness the raging controversy about how Facebook had irresponsibly allowed the private data of its users to be used for political manipulation.  The digital world is a vast space that children will have to be taught to navigate with naturalness, but also with a great deal of common sense.  If a child is advised not to start a conversation with just any stranger encountered in the street, the same prudence should be practised in the web.  From the very beginning of their use of social networking, children should be taught to be wary about sharing their most intimate thoughts and feelings even with their closest friends and much less candid photos taken during their private moments.   Effective and open family communication will help children understand all this, and create an atmosphere of trust in which they can ask questions and resolve doubts.

         In article entitled “Tips on how to use parental controls” written by Mark Isaiah David, some suggestions are made on how to protect children from the evil forces in the internet.  As the author aptly comments: “In the Internet, no one is exactly who they say they are and the young and inexperienced are vulnerable to the deceit prevalent in the network.  There are cyber criminals who exploit and profit from people’s poor cyber security practices, and there are far too many adult content out there that are ridiculously accessible to children.”   These dangers to unsuspecting children are reasons enough to establish security measures to protect them from harm.  Fortunately, both Android and iOS devices have built-in parental control features that are relatively easy to set up.  These parental control features are built-in in smartphones.  For example, Qustodio is a full suite of parental control tools that get high ratings on reviews.  Even the app’s free version is impressive in its coverage—giving the parent the ability to set rules, time limitations, and most importantly block pornography and other inappropriate content (such as films with brutal violence).  With the paid version, parents will also have SMS monitoring, social media controls, and per-app features.

         There are apps which allow parents to monitor all their kids’ online activities from either its revamped web portal or a stand-alone companion app.  It can even track the child’s location.  It gives sufficient protection, but some features can be disabled.  This is not automatically a bad thing because it leads to a facet about parental controls that is even more important than an app’s features:  parental behavior regarding child control.  It is never advisable to spy on the kids’ behaviors. Spying smacks of lack of trust.  It is better for parents to engage with children regarding parental controls and discuss the need for it.    It can be a teachable moment—instead of using an iron hand, explain and convince the children why such measures are actually a good idea.  Parental controls and apps are great, but they are no substitute to honest and open communication between parents and kids.  Kids can be convinced with dialogue that visiting disagreeable sites, overusing their devices, and having unsafe online practices would be injurious to them.   As early as possible children should be taught that freedom always goes hand in hand with responsibility.  As Mr. David wrote:  “A collaborative approach  would ultimately be more fruitful, especially since there is a huge chance that your kids would end up more tech savvy than you are.  If you don’t want them to end up circumventing your efforts and outsmarting your apps, having them on board is the way to go.”  For comments, my email is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.