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February 10, 2018
Suburban youth ‘tell it like it is’
February 10, 2018

Engage ‘digital citizens’ differently

Grenada-born Sr Julie Marie Peters was elected Assistant General Superior of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother (SSM) on October 25, 2017 in Rome, Italy at the Congregation’s 22nd General Assembly.

The SSM General Assembly is an ecclesial event held every five years at Casa Generalizia in Rome. Its primary purpose is to elect leadership and set the agenda for the next five years through its discernment of directions for the future.

The chosen directions arise from the reflection of the Sisters throughout the Congregation, a leadership report, the reports from the regions and delegations, and from the discernment of the General Assembly delegates. These decisions set the priorities for the lives and mission of the Sisters.

The Sisters currently have ministries in the United States, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Austria, Tanzania, Grenada, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and the Dominican Republic.

Sr Julie is well known in Trinidad and Tobago and in the wider Caribbean for her work in Common Sense Parenting and Human Development training (building capacity of our youths to develop coping strategies) in secondary schools.

She is a professional family and marriage therapist and does training in human trafficking awareness. She has also designed and implements the Parenting for Literacy component of the Leading for Literacy Now project of the Republic Bank ‘Power to Make a Difference Trinidad and Tobago’ which impact children, young people and families.

She is also very instrumental in the Non-Violence initiative which is spearheaded by the Living Water and the wider community.

The following question was put to Sr Julie before her departure for Rome. If you had to solve the ills that prevail in T&T what would you do?

“I would pay particular attention to education. I would EDUCATE, and EDUCATE again, formally and informally children, parents, and communities.  I would make it one of the top priorities, not only in T&T, but in the region. We all talk about the crime in the country, and as I travel through the islands, I listen to conversations about the rise in criminal activities.

As I listen to these conversations, I am reminded of the words of British Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who said, To defend a country, you need an army. But to defend a civilization, you need education”.

There is still too much discussion and emphasis on controlling unproductive child/student behaviour and not enough emphasis on creating a learning environment that encourages productive student behaviour. Discipline should not be limited to something you do after a child or student has done something wrong.

Instead, discipline should structure your relationship with your child or student to facilitate effective home or classroom management and ultimately, to imbue them with a strong sense of self-worth, responsibility and competence.

I am particularly concerned and interested in the children who were born from 2000 onwards. This generation that we refer to as ‘digital citizens (natives)’ has to be engaged in an entirely different way. Have we stopped to ask, what are their strengths? Are we interested in building on their strengths?  Do we as parents and teachers out of frustration, just throw up our hands in the air and say to ourselves, “I just don’t know what to do with them, they are just different’’.

This response is unproductive, passive, helpless and lacking in creativity and imagination. It is a surrender that is unwarranted and even dangerous.

The all-consuming and pervasive nature of digital culture has changed the way they think, and learn. Education both at home and in school is completely out of sync with this reality.

The schools that are digitalised must be commended. However, this is just the very, very, tip of the iceberg. The real challenge of education to fully maximise the benefit of this digital age is far from being considered or discussed in an integrated, holistic and systemic way. I say so because this conversation has to understand and incorporate the developmental needs and tasks of the child, most especially the teenager.

Adolescence is a time when many of the teenager’s secure foundations are shaken, changed, destroyed and revised. This critical time is marked by the following tasks: development of personal and ethical values; development of vocational goals, developing and establishing their own identity; attempts at dating relationships; and coping with physical maturity that is ahead of their emotional maturity to name a few of their challenges.  These tasks are accomplished mainly through real face-to-face and person-to-person interaction.

Yes, we might marvel at their masterful use of technology, however, let us be reminded that technology gives them the means to talk but it is our duty to still teach them the skills of dialogue.

It has provided them with lots of opportunities to connect but has not provided them with the skills to relate, communicate clearly, respectfully or taught them how to observe boundaries. In this age of connected disconnectedness, how do we address the isolation experienced in families?

When everyone sits totally engaged with their ‘I Something’ having little or no conversation it raises the question of the transmission of values. Can we really learn empathy by befriending digital gadgets?

There is a display of anger and also a lack of empathy that are evident in the culture that concerns me. We have to educate at home, at school, and in the communities, so that self-awareness is developed, self-regulation mastered and empathy is learnt.

Our education will truly be transformative when it helps to foster a culture of responsibility; when we all learn that we are each other’s neighbour and together we have collective responsibility for the common good.

We will truly defend a civilisation, when education forms and transforms us into people of courage who will take the initiative to act on our behalf and that of others.”