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Character Education and Digital Lifestyles

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98% of young people between 16 and 34 are connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, especially via their smartphones. The remaining 2% are not – but probably only because they’ve got a dead battery or have run out of phone credit.

But joking aside, these figures, which emerged during the Professional Seminar Character Education and Digital Lifestyles held in Rome in October at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross at the initiative of Interaxiongroup, warrant a second look.

While from one perspective it signals the growing demand for information and entertainment from one of the most active and dynamic age groups, that of the under 35s, it also shows clearly how technology and new media is now all pervasive – beyond all measure - in our daily lives.

Having the need to constantly and continuously socalise and connect with families, friends and colleagues at any time of the day in itself is not bad. Infact, it is part of the social nature of humankind.

But going beyond this – moving from technology dependence and substituting the virtual world for the real world - is another issue. It may even require serious study and new educational models and tools for the new generations, to learn how to train their wills and build virtues and values of character.

In a previous article we gave 5 Small Tips for greater serenity and relaxation without the hassle of continually monitoring smartphone notifications, emails and messages.

Very little is needed. There is no need to get off Facebook completely, but one small change could be disinstalling the smartphone mobile app. Rest assured that the obsessive need to connect every 5 minutes, especially during the dead moments such as waiting at the bus stop or while stuck in traffic, will reduce.

The Seminar was attended by over 300 people, from all over the world, particularly from the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Italy, England and Spain.

Many of the professionals came from the fields of ethics and social communication, but also in attendance were journalists, trainers and educators, in addition to many family associations, centers of study and research, and non-profit organizations, including Common Sense, Protegetucorazon, Fapace and l' Institució Familiar d'Educació.

The opening session was presented by Prof. James Arthur professor of Education and Civic Engagement at the University of Birmingham and Director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtue.

In addition to hyper-connection, amongst the numerous issues tackled during the seminar included technological education in the family, the theme of the relationship between adolescents and social networks, the coherence between online and offline life, the prevention of bullying and cyberbullying in schools, video games and television series.

The latter topic was introduced and presented by Armando Fumagalli, professor at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, which analyzed the various teen models that emerge within television series, showing how and why they have so much influence on young people.

But take note. Contrary to what one might expect, the TV series are very often good products, and can impact positively on the lifestyles of children, arousing emotions and encouraging feelings and values such as respect, tolerance, altruism, generosity , love and friendship. Such examples include Red Bracelets, Don Matteo and Downton Abbey.

Finally, deserving of special attention is the work on the topic of pornography by Thomas Lickona, developmental psychologist and professor emeritus of education at the State University of New York at Cortland.

Lickona showed that pornography is now become pervasive in the current American society, with particular dissemination and impact among adolescents and even among children. C

Citing a report of the American Association of Pediatricians, The Impact of Pornography on Children, has highlighted how the increasing consumption of pornography among young Americans is directly correlated to depression, anxiety, feelings of alienation, violent behavior disorders physical and a distorted view of marriage and married life.

In addition, promiscuity is seen as somewhat normal. Among adults, pornography is directly connected to an increase in the divorce rates, especially when it is the man who is the consumer.

Contributing to the enormous spread and widespsread accessibilty of pornography – including to children – which, let us not forget that by law would not have been seen - was the Internet, which has made it a product of mass consumption, with free and unlimited access.

Lickona concluded his speech by citing recent research on the brain, where it has been scientifically demonstrated that the consumption of pornography causes less cerebral functionality, provoking aggressive behavior, mental illness and addictions of all similar to those suffered by users of cocaine , alcohol and amphetamines.

Here, as in the case of digital hyper connection, the activation of filters and parental controls is not enough.

Merely palliative solutions aren’t needed. What is needed is a mind shift, with the introduction of new educational models and tools and specific training of parents, teachers and educators, to guide and make people think about this serious but still underrated issue adversely affecting our physical and psychological social well being.


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