Dealing with Digital Dilemmas

We live in a world dominated by digital technology and digital technology has connected the world in an unprecedented way. While the benefits are far-reaching, there are many challenges this technology poses, especially for adolescents and the adults who care for them.

On Wednesday 28 August, Dr Justin Coulson, highly respected author and speaker on topics such as family life, relationships, wellbeing and resilience, came to Whitefriars College to share with parents his expert perspective on how to manage this digital world with young people. This presentation also reinforced the importance of the student, parent, school nexus which is highly valued by the College and when positive and collaborative, has a significantly positive impact on students – their learning outcomes and wellbeing. Dr Coulson outlined the persuasive techniques imbedded into digital technology which is drawing us to our devices, especially mobile phones. Notifications, streaks, likes and comments are some of the many persuasive devices employed by creators of mobile technology which create a dependence, and in some extreme cases an addiction, to this technology. Never have we been faced with a medium which is so total (sun up to sun down), social and personal (tailored to the individual).

In terms of the role parents can play in helping their children manage their use of technology, Dr Coulson’s advice is not to ask how much technology should my child be accessing but what kind of content is my child accessing? Healthy use of technology is when the technology use relates to a child’s needs, interests and aspirations. He also challenged parents to ‘be the example’ in the home and model appropriate technology use. Another helpful/practical support for parents in managing their child’s technology use is to create a Family Media Plan. He posed a series of question to help parents formulate this plan with their children.

  • What are the most positive screen and media experiences we have shared as a family?
  • How can we encourage more of those experiences?
  • When is it appropriate to use media and screens?
  • When do we require screen-free time?
  • What is our decision regarding filters and other security measures?
  • What is our decision regarding the apps that our children will be allowed access to? And at what ages?
  • How can we set out a positive and balanced example of technology use?
  • What exceptions might be reasonable to this plan?

One of the most important message Dr Coulson regularly came back to in his presentation was the importance of open dialogue between parents and their children. He provided a framework to steer conversations when young people challenge parents’ rules around the use of screens and discipline issues arise; Explain, Explore, Empower.

Explain – Calmly explain what you are after and why. The why is critical because the best results come from giving reasons for what you have asked.

Explore – Young people need to be given a voice to articulate the reasons for their behaviour in order to understand their motivations, which can help to come to a solution.

Empower – If young people can play a role in coming up with a way forward, there is a far greater likelihood of change in behaviour.

Technology is not going away and the importance of open communication between parents and their children when it comes to managing this technology has never been more essential. A huge thank you to Dr Coulson for imparting his knowledge and wisdom and also to the Whitefriars parents who were able to avail themselves of this important conversation.


Mick Lafferty

Deputy Principal – Students

en English