Parents are often befuddled with their children being engrossed with the Internet. They cannot fathom the interest behind the constant need to share what they are doing on a minute by minute basis with the rest of the world, or the urge to harvest virtual crops or create fantastical food ideas. Or worse, parents are appalled by the seeming ease with which adults might pose as youths in online games, and their warnings to their children fall on deaf ears.

In reality, the youth gets a myriad of positive strokes from interacting with friends in cyber space. Be it in the form of a "like" on Facebook, or comments on their wall, or even "@" mentions in their friends' tweets. These social interactions online create a sense of camaraderie and gives youths a sense of belonging with their friends, and in the process, gives youth the much needed attention and empathy on what goes on in their lives.

There are many examples of the struggles that parents have with their children. In one case, a youth had insisted that he would rush back home immediately after school if he could use the computer at home. Otherwise he would go to a friend's home, and even stay over without his parents' consent. On the other hand, this youth's parents had adamantly refused to compromise as they would not be able to coax their son off the computer once he had logged on, and he would be engrossed online to the point of missing his meals and even skipping school.

This lack of understanding and communication, while apparently insurmountable, is exactly what needs to be addressed and improved for healing to start in the relationship between parents and their children.

Perhaps it might be helpful for parents to suspend their notions of the Internet and explore what it is about the computer games and online socialising that appeals to their children. Often times, youths will derive utility in the form of autonomy, belonging and competence in playing these computer and online games. Parents should try to understanding these needs, so as to find alternative ways to meet them. For example, a youth might play computer games to "unlock" various achievements in the game, thus a parent might duplicate this in the physical world by praising the child unconditionally for positive behaviour. For another child who plays computer games with friends as a group activity, parents can try to encourage their child to participate in other group-based activities, perhaps in school or some other community.

The emphasis here is on the quality time spent between parents and their children, and for children to be able to experience understanding from their parents on their likes and dislikes, instead of just concern for their academic results. Parents may or may not agree with the current fads and trends that appeal to the youth, but it is important that they do not pass judgment, and instead, understand and guide them.

Understanding this would allow for parents to provide their children's fragile egos with affirmation that they so crave. For example, if a child manages to "level up" in a game, or goes on to a "new level", then parents can affirm the child's prowess and progress in the game instead of saying that the game is a waste of time.

A study had noted that mothers tend to have little knowledge of the games that their sons play. Meanwhile, father tended to be more knowledgeable, they were less engaged and less involved in their children's lives. Therefore, it is important for mothers to learn more about the computer games that their children play and the virtual world that their kids live in. Likewise, fathers should be more involved with their children's lives.

Parenting youths in their teen-aged years is no easy task. Frustration is quick to set in, and a sense of hopelessness which pervades after trying and trying unsuccessfully to connect with their children is more likely the norm. Parents need to attempt to find new ways to engage their children, and perhaps use technology in the form of computer games and social media as a tool to engage their children. Parents also need to appreciate the importance of having a consistent parenting style, and to co-operate with each other to set clear and concrete rules with their teens. If parents can find patience and perseverance, and a willingness to listen to and to cheer their children on, then there will be hope for a stronger bond between parents and children.

By Alphonsus Lee and Chow Kit Seen (Metoyou Cyber Counselling team, Marine Parade Family Service Centre)

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