6. The Digital Universe
At this challenging age, digital distractions can easily become a way for children to avoid painful emotions. Parental control software and other limits can help. But it’s more important that parents help their children work through these emotions. Parents should also spend time discussing the harms of excessive screen time with their children.
For 10 to 12 year olds, the digital universe is principally centered on two domains: gaming and using the internet to watch videos or simply browse.
We have seen how puberty exacerbates emotions, which makes it more difficult to manage them. The primary challenge is to resist the temptations of instant gratification and of giving in to one’s impulses. Controlling and distancing oneself from one’s own emotions is indispensable to critical thinking and reasoning at any age.
The digital universe has an adverse effect on emotional control for several reasons.
Firstly, gaming, like web browsing, transports us into the realm of imagination and magic, akin to that of our earliest childhood. For example, we can have many lives after having been “killed,” we can teleport wherever we like, and we can rapidly obtain answers to numerous questions. This begs the question of what effect this has on the immediate gratification of our impulses. Yet, this seemingly infinite power does not reward the effort and distancing necessary for the development of critical thinking and reasoning.
Moreover, we have seen that children’s distancing themselves from their parents is complicated, notably because their identities are still works in progress. Online, children witness the emergence of a new cohort of idols from YouTube and elsewhere. They also encounter multiple characters while gaming; they can even begin to identify with these characters.
In this way, grappling with frustrations linked to puberty (foiled freedoms and impulses) and with an identity still “under construction,” children can escape their negative emotions through gaming: at the push of a button they can enter a separate world. Alternatively, they can assume an online life through videos posted by other children.
By fleeing their emotions through digital distractions, children deprive themselves of an opportunity to reflect on and overcome their emotions and impulses.
Parental control software theoretically provides a means of blocking violence and pornography, but it can do nothing to block the sea of stupidity and false information that circulates over the web. Furthermore, children can access violent video games from friends.
By fleeing their emotions through digital distractions, children deprive themselves of an opportunity to reflect on and overcome their emotions and impulses. In other words, they don’t learn to manage their emotions and to put them in context through metacognition. This would help them override their emotions through reasoning and help them take a more objective, critical perspective on themselves and others.
Negative emotions linked to frustration and identity are normal during this period. These negative emotions, and the child’s processing of them, are what pushes the mind to reconfigure itself, managing suffering by interpreting and grappling with the challenges of growing up.
Too much time spent playing video games or on the internet stunts the development of emotional management capacities and, by extension, of critical thinking. In addition to their addictive side effects, video games and the internet can bring about neuropsychological effects not unlike the effects of drug use.