Doctor helps families cross digital divide

Doctor helps families cross digital divide

According to clinical psychologist Michael Osit, today’s parents face not a generation gap but a “generation crater,” carved out by technology and the culture that surrounds it.

As a result, he said, many parents fear losing control of their children, and with good reason. But there are ways to reduce the damage and still build healthy family relationships.

“Today’s parents have no idea what it is like to be a kid in the digital generation,” he said. “This is the first generation that actually knows more than their parents. So, how can parents guide their kids and help them navigate through a world in which they have little idea how it functions?”

Osit will outline some of his tips for raising well-adjusted “Generation Texters” on Wednesday, Dec. 14, at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains. His talk will be cohosted by Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Central NJ and Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey’s Kesher Program, which is funded with a grant from the federation.

Osit, who has been in practice for over 30 years, lives in Springfield and works in Warren. He is the author of the book Generation Text: Raising Well-Adjusted Kids in an Age of Instant Everything. He also writes a column, “Mind To Mind” in WarrenConnections publication.

In addition to his clinical practice, he is a licensed school psychologist with a doctorate in education and regularly conducts seminars and workshops for mental health professionals and educators on issues related to child development, children’s behavior, and communication.

Working with families over the past few years, he told NJ Jewish News in e-mailed answers to questions last week, he began to notice issues that weren’t seen 10 years before.

“Parent/child conflicts within families were increasing, often with a technological device like a cell phone, computer, or video games as the culprit,” he said.

“Parenting today is very different from previous generations. The impact of technology and the culture on our kids is pervasive. They are growing with unbridled access to the world, with layers of privacy from their parents. Technology and the culture are so powerful that the parents’ role in imparting values, attitudes, respect for authority, work ethic, appropriate social relationships, and behavior has become compromised.”

The advice he gives to parents and professionals and his optimism  come not just from his practice but also from his own parenting. Osit has been married for 30 years and has grown children, two sons, Daniel, 29, and Matthew, 22, and a daughter, Nicole, 27, who last year joined him in his practice. He said they taught him the importance of having perspective, being accepting, and communicating in such a way as to be understood.

“My kids are great and with my wife’s fantastic intuitive parenting skills and what I have learned from my patients, they have grown up to be happy, healthy adults,” he told NJJN. “They are really nice people.”

Back in the trenches, though, and dealing with children who are making one angry or worried can take tremendous self-control. “It is important to not show extreme emotional reactions or shock,” he said. “The goal is to not only deal with the behavior, but to develop a climate in the parent/child relationship where the child feels comfortable and emotionally ‘safe’ to come to the parents when they do get in over their heads in social and Internet encounters.”

It is vital, he stressed, that parents limit children’s access — but not block it altogether — to things like video games, the Internet, and cellphones. A complete cut-off, he said, “would not only socially marginalize them, it would actually handicap them,” by depriving them of the enormously rich trove of information offered by the Internet.

He said, “Technology is embedded in our culture and you cannot function without using it. It is a matter of educating, monitoring, and setting proper limits with the technology so that it is used beneficially, not harmfully.”

He urges parents to maintain perspective and not let their anxiety spread beyond the current incident. “Parents should talk over the behavior with each other or with a trusted family member prior to addressing it” with the child.

“Parents need to avoid judgmental statements,” he continued. “Instead, I coach parents to ask their child what they think of the behavior or incident. Usually kids make their own judgments that end up being consistent with what parents would say in the first place.”

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