A rather insightful study was released last week by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The opening sentence about this study in the online Medicalxpress.com says, “Parents play a major role in determining whether teens’ use of digital technology is healthy or puts their mental and physical health at risk….”[i]
As an organization that spends a great deal of time and effort extolling the importance of the family, in particular the family as God designed it, we are always pleased when secular entities realize the truth of what we know and promote. However, we really should never be surprised about the importance of family, especially on the well-being of children.
Let’s face it: technology isn’t going away. That’s a reality we are being forced to face and grapple with—even as adults. We also know the problems technology brings—or we should know, especially for the sake of the young people in our lives. And that’s what is encouraging about this large nationwide study that the UW School of Medicine and Public Health conducted looking at family dynamics and digital use. Nearly 4000 pairs—meaning a teen and a parent—were involved in the research.
The top talking point in their findings is that about 63 percent of teens fell into the “family engaged” group and had what the researchers call a “healthy relationship with technology.” The study categorized the other 37 percent as “at risk.” This group of young people were at risk primarily because their parents weren’t modeling good social media use and either had no rules at all regarding technology use or had a rule only involving screen time.
What just kind of screams at us here is that children respond far more to what we do than what we say. Parents who actually model discipline, who stick by the family rules regarding digital technology use, are more likely to have teens who don’t suffer from the physical and mental health issues that come with digital addiction. Kids’ don’t buy the “do as I say, not as I do” line. They will do as you do, more than likely, dad and mom.
The doctor who led the survey, Dr. Megan Moreno, cautioned parents about rules, noting that while focusing on screen time is easier, good parenting will focus on content as well as have ongoing communication between the parents and the teens about what the teens are viewing or listening to.
Another interesting finding from the study is that teens who have healthy relationships with technology live in situations where the family owns the devices, not the teens. Presumably what happens is that when the family actually owns the smart phone, for instance, it’s understood that dad and mom have every right to have a say in what content is available and when and where the phone is used.
Teen well-being is critical, especially with the rise of mental health issues amongst that age group. The study looked at health outcomes that included “physical activity, sleep, problematic internet use, and mental health. Well-being was measured by mental wellness, communication and empathy.” One specific well-being finding from the study was that 70% of the “family engaged” teens had “healthy attitudes toward their body image,” whereas 84% of the “at risk” teens suffered from an unhealthy body image.
In essence what this study does is corroborate what should be common knowledge: parents matter—and what parents do matters. We talk about parents being their children’s first and most important teachers. But that influence doesn’t stop when formal education begins. Intentional, purposeful parenting that includes modeling good behavior and having and enforcing family rules should be the norm from the time the child arrives until the time the son or daughter leaves the home.
Once again we see God’s way is the best way. God’s design for marriage and family is for dads and moms to be actively engaged in the upbringing of the children God gives them. Today, that active engagement includes the use of digital technology. Good and godly parenting, which includes setting a good example, is the very best offense and the best defense any child can have in this challenging area and any other area of life as well.
This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
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