For almost two years, our attention has been intensely focused on the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on public health. However, there is another pandemic infesting the hearts and minds of many, especially young people. That is, the continued intrusion of technology into our lives and its relentless effort to steal our time and undermine our moral integrity.
In this blog:
- There is ample evidence of the harm technology can cause children, so how do we moderate between its necessary use and recreational use that can become obsessive and harmful?
- The Regina Academies are intentionally tech free. In fact, many tech executives send their children to tech free schools and limit the use of technology at home.
- Children and pornography is a well-documented pandemic. Statistics indicate that only 12% of parents are aware their children are accessing pornography on the internet.
- The Regina Academies partner with families to provide a coherent moral formation that strives to strengthen virtue and keep children safe from the harms so readily available online.
Many alarms have been sounded about this pandemic, but few have heeded their warnings. The Social Dilemma, a documentary released in the fall of 2020, exposed the dangers of social media, especially to the safety and mental health of young people. It received 30 million views in its first 4 weeks and in September of 2020 was the most popular movie on Netflix in the U.S.
Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are back in the news after a whistle-blower shared internal documents proving they have put profit over the safety of their users. Of course, everyone knows they (and other social media platforms) actively manage public discourse by “canceling” any opinions that don’t comport with their approved narrative.
Concerned individuals in the tech industry have warned that companies are intentionally designing products to cause addiction. That was a main theme in The Social Dilemma. In 2018, but another group of former Facebook, Google, and Apple employees launched an effort to reach 55,000 U.S. schools to warn kids about these dangers.
None of this information is a secret. It has been broadly covered in the media and is evident all around us. For most of us, all we have to do is check our own usage, but we can also observe the behavior of others we encounter on the street, in stores, cars, restaurants, etc. On average, we Americans check our smartphones 256 times per day!
Smartphones have been made an indispensable appendage for anyone who must function in society. But with their necessity, the challenge to discipline ourselves to use them responsibly is great. For children and their parents, that can be especially difficult.
Technology and the Regina Academies
From our founding, the Regina Academies, like most other classical schools, have been tech free. We understand that technology is unavoidable and provides many benefits, but it is not as indispensable in schools as some may assume. Our schools do not put laptops or tablets in our students’ hands, nor do we want them to read their textbooks online as many other schools do. The Covid-19 pandemic forced us into virtual instruction for a time, but technology in school is fundamentally incompatible with a classical education. As soon as possible, students returned to their classrooms where they are able to have personal interactions with their teachers and one another. Computers and hand-held devices are an unnecessary distraction in a learning environment where students are expected to perfect positive human interaction, and to freely share their thoughts and ideas.
The Dangers of Technology in Children’s Lives
Parents who may question tech-free schools should follow the lead of some Silicon Valley tech executives who send their children to tech-free schools and also restrict its use at home. These informed parents know that technology can be damaging to their children’s development and they are not passive in monitoring their children’s use. They know there are good reasons for caution.
How Serious is the Threat? Very Serious
Recent research indicates that video gamers spend about eight hours and 27 minutes each week online playing games. Of course, that’s an average number but it may help parents understand where their children fit on the spectrum of game use. About one-third of respondents reported that they play games for five hours straight. This so-called binge gaming is up 13% over 2020. Many who responded to the survey said that online games were places where they could hang out with friends, and 53% reported making new friends while playing games.
So, where do these kids hang out to meet up with friends or meet new friends?
Discord is the main place gamers meet. Discord was launched in 2015 as an online messaging platform and quickly became popular in the gaming community. Today, Discord reports some 350 million registered users and 150 million active monthly users. It allows users to communicate via text, voice, and video in various public and private “communities.”
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has named Discord to their Dirty Dozen – a list of popular platforms that facilitate, or profit from sexual abuse and exploitation. Discord has become a platform for exchanging pornography and “revenge porn.” It is also very lax in enforcing safety for children and has a record of being used by sexual predators to groom children for sexual trafficking. Parents should not allow their children access to this app.
TikTok is another app that should concern parents, although it is so popular, convincing children of its dangers could be a challenge. As the most popular app in the world, TikTok boasts an estimated 1.1 billion users. The average user spends 52 minutes each day on the app. Of course, that is added to the average time spent playing games.
TikTok is a Chinese company that was founded in 2017 to host short-form videos. The Wall Street Journal researched (or here) TikTok to understand how the algorithm works that determines what content to deliver to users. What they found by creating dozens of accounts claiming to be registered to 13 – 15-year-old teens is that TikTok’s algorithm quickly leads kids down a rabbit hole of videos exposing them to pornography, violence, and drugs.
Both Discord and TikTok are especially popular among young teens, and that is especially troubling given they are documented as being responsible for leading children into the deadly pandemic of online porn. Parents should not presume their children are safe from this pandemic.
Statistics indicate that only 12% of parents are aware that their children are accessing pornography on the internet.
The average age of first exposure to pornography is 11, and children under 10 account for 22% of online porn consumption among children under 18. It is estimated that in the 14 – 18 age range, 84.4% of males, and 57% of females have been exposed to pornography, and as many as one-fourth claim that they are unable to stop, in other words, they are addicted to online pornography. Read these statistics, and be encouraged to do whatever is needed to secure your home networks and avoid allowing your children any gateway to this harmful exposure.
Our Partnership in Protecting Children
Parents send their children to Catholic classical schools like the Regina Academies so that they can be well-formed intellectually and grow in faith and virtue. Our schools are tech-free largely because an important part of formation is encouraging real, not virtual, human interactions within our school communities. We want children to gain confidence through positive and challenging conversations with their teachers and peers across the span of ages in our schools.
Technology is an indispensable part of contemporary life, but for our children’s sake, we must be aware of its temptations and protect them from its dangers. Being guardians of our children’s virtue is a daunting task when faced with the ubiquity of technology, its pitfalls, and especially its allure to children.
The Regina Academies are committed to forming children in virtue and holiness, but we can only be as effective as families are vigilant at home. We value our partnership with families as together we work to form children in faith and reason. For us all to grow in virtue, we have to be disciplined in our use of free time. The partnership between parents and the school requires vigilance in avoiding anything that would compromise our beautiful young souls’ developing moral sense.