Curious about God? Check out our Knowable God community.
“I want to go back to school, again!” was my students’ common refrain during the early stages of the pandemic in 2020. The majority of them, both children and teens, missed their school friends and wished for the lockdown to be over.
However, since 2021, the more oft-heard response has become, “I don’t want to go back to school.”
It’s hard to believe how the pandemic drastically changed their mindsets within two years.
The “culprit” for this change?
I blame it on the new influencer in their lives – the Internet.
A necessary evil?
Is the Internet a boon or a bane? That depends.
For parents, it is definitely a boon. During the lockdown, with daycare and tuition centers closed, most parents welcomed the availability of digital tools such as handphones, tablets, and computers to keep their children busy and “entertained.” This gave parents a much-needed relief to work from home.
For school teachers and education operators, the ability to conduct online learning helped keep students on track with their learning. Even so, online learning is less than ideal for most students, and some teachers struggle to engage with the students’ ever-waning interests.
For the younger generation, let’s just say that the Internet is one of the best things that ever happened to them. Faced with a change in their daily schedule, the uncertainty of their future, and unscheduled time on their hands, they could only turn to digital tools, especially the handphone, as their “solace” and “friend.” It became their time filler.
“Teacher, can you quickly finish the class?” my students would ask me.
“I have a scheduled online game with my friends.”
They have suddenly become “busier” than the adults.
To show how “busy” they were, I recently asked some of my students to tell me how much time they spent daily on their handphones before, during, and after the pandemic. A total of 11 students, ages ranging from 9 to 15 years old, took part in my survey.
|Time on mobile (hours)||Pre-lockdown (schools open)||Lockdown (schools closed)||Post-lockdown (schools reopened)|
|2 – 5 hours||82%||10%||64%|
|6 – 10 hours||18%||27%||27%|
|11 – 20 hours||0%||63%||0%|
Now, let’s compare these statistics with the findings from Asian Beacon, a Christian family magazine, in their August/September 2000 issue, 22 years ago.
|Frequency of teenagers using the Internet||Percentage|
|Use it every day||9%|
|Use it several times each week||14%|
|Use it once a week||11%|
|Use it one to three times per month||16%|
|Use it less than once a month||10%|
|Rarely or never use it||40%|
The comparison is so glaring. In 2000, 40% of teenagers rarely or never used the Internet. But it’s a different ballgame now for adolescents. The majority of the students I surveyed spent more than 10 hours on their handphones during the lockdown.
If we were to take out their Google Classroom school lessons, which amount to about 5 to 6 hours per weekday, how would they spend the rest of their time on digital tools?
Those who don’t indulge in online games would use their handphone to chat with their friends, read webtoons, browse social media, learn a new skill, and so on.
My students said they spent time watching videos, YouTube, and Tik Tok, while most of them played online games.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
In their undeveloped adolescent minds, these are the reasons why the Internet is so appealing:
- Kills time.
- Releases stress and overcomes boredom.
- It is entertaining.
- Allows them to meet new friends through online games.
- Online shopping is a breeze.
- Endless material for reading, from reading apps to comics and webtoons.
- Watching YouTube helps them learn different skills to win online games. For example, in snooker, the ball usually has to be hit at indirect angles to enter a pocket; this requires geometrical skills. When they hit a ball, they must imagine where the ball will go.
Personally, during the pandemic, I learned how to do online coloring, create newsletters, and even tried online board games with strangers. I taught my students what I learned from the Internet, and they, in turn, shared with me what they have discovered, for example, drawing apps.
An 18-year-old former student of mine touts the benefits of the Internet by saying, “Online games are good for learning communication and critical thinking skills, and online videos are informative.”
Yet, as with most things, there is also the flip side of the Internet. As my smartest 13-year-old student shared with me:
“Teacher, did you know the Internet has a dark side?”
He shared with me stories of addictions and scams, “weirdos” and pedophiles, and a world where chaos and ugliness attract rather than repel.
He added, “With all the dark side, that’s the fun part of it.”
Meanwhile, some of my students were quick to point out the ugly sides of the Internet:
- It has the potential to become a form of addiction.
- Time waster.
- Too much screen time affects one’s eyesight.
- Morally compromising content is easily accessible.
- It lessens users’ social interaction.
- Scammers and hackers.
As much as these students recognized the negative influence of the Internet, they still spend the bulk of their time on their mobile phones. I don’t blame them. There isn’t really any control from adults on their usage. Perhaps parents too are at a loss on how to set limits on something seemingly innocuous and “necessary” as the mobile phone.
How times have changed from when mobile phones were used only for making calls. Today, most of us use it for all sorts of reasons except to make calls.
To Internet or not to Internet?
One day, while conducting an online class with 9-year-old students, I noticed one of them could hardly open his eyes.
“Why are your eyes like that? You look like a panda bear,” I pointed out.
He merely replied, “I was on my phone for 11 hours, and I slept at 5am.”
Is this a healthy habit? I would think not.
Someone from the older generation might offer a simple solution to this problem: “Just don’t give your children any digital gadgets.”
It’s not as simple as that, as there is no denying that the Internet is very much part of our daily lives, whether young or old. Despite its dangers, the Internet can be a powerful tool to do good. So perhaps the question should be, how do we harness its good while minimizing its harm?
Complete not compete with the new influencer
According to Tim Elmore, a bestselling author and CEO of Growing Leaders, the way that we parent, teach and coach today is different not because children are different but because the culture is different. He says, “We are raising them in a society where Siri and Alexa offer quick answers, creating eight-second attention spans and expectations that solutions should be instantaneous and that life should be entertaining.”
In the article found on his blog, Growing Leaders, Elmore goes on to say that it is not necessary for adults to adopt every new trend that pops up, but that they learn to adapt to the world the children are growing up in, i.e., look for ways to complement what the new world has to offer.
He adds that while the Internet offers a wealth of information, parents and educators bear the heavy responsibility of teaching children the right values by which to interpret the information. “Young people are drowning in information but starving for wisdom,” he says.
If you are a Christian, your worldview and values would definitely differ from the secular world. How, then, can you wisely engage with your children so that you understand their world and yet also encourage their growth as a compassionate, reflective, wise, and God-fearing person?
Below are the six tips Elmore gives to adults to complete (rather than compete with) what the Internet offers young people:
- Form an authentic and transparent relationship. Ask them questions, banter, and forge a genuine connection.
- Host an interactive learning experience. Most of their interactions are about entertainment. Yours can transform their hopes and plans.
- Listen to them and empathize with them. Listening to a student is almost equal to feeling love for them. Empathy precedes trust.
- Introduce them to significant people. Bridge building and door opening are essential for students. Invite them into your network.
- Travel to someplace they’ve not been. Trips to different cultures are like memorable college classes. The new and novel are golden.
- Guide their growth with questions. The best instruction occurs through discovery.
- Give them autonomy in the goals they set. Teens today lack the autonomy to enjoy metacognition—to choose how and what they study.
Remember that as parents and teachers, we play a unique role in shaping the younger generation. Let us not allow Tik Tok, Google, Instagram, and other social media platforms to usurp our role as educators, role models, guardians, and protectors.
As parents set a schedule for screen time and no-screen time for them. Make time to be curious to see what they do on the Internet. Capture learning moments and see these interactions as precious bonding time.
As teachers, let’s constantly leverage the Internet to challenge ourselves to be on par with our students and understand their world.
The new influencer of the young, the Internet, is here to stay. Like it or not, parents and teachers have to take the road less traveled and go through the digitization journey together with them.