Children ‘sat like zombies’ warns psychotherapist
As a former teacher, Dr Patricia Moroney was alarmed at the passivity of the children seated in front of her when she was invited to establish a music program at Rosary Primary School in Watson more than three decades ago.
“Normally, I would need to quell boisterous enthusiasm. But they sat like zombies with no creativity coming into it,” she says. “I guessed the lack of response had something to do with television and decided to look into it.”
First, she had years of study in Switzerland ahead of her as she worked towards a doctorate in Depth Psychology and a new career as Jungian analyst. That path also allowed her to put her qualifications in teaching, theology and spirituality, culture and mythology, music and languages to good use.
The reputation she built in the ensuing years led to a place at the dinner table one night in the early 2000s with the then governor-general, Michael Jeffery, and his wife, Marlena. They discussed their shared concerns about the effect of television, particularly the portrayal of violent imagery, on children.
This discussion inspired Patricia to produce an in-depth paper on violence in the media, critically analysing a wide range of studies in this area. She concluded, among other things, that early exposure to violence on television and in other media was contributing to depression, anxiety and aggression in later years. In addition, constant interaction with computers, TV and video games resulted in “a kind of dehumanisation”.
Michael Jeffery edited and endorsed the article at the time and, all these years on, Patricia has resurrected the paper, believing it is even more relevant in the social media era. The paper was the basis of her two presentations for the Catholic Bookshop’s Fireside Chats in February and March.
“This came about because I have been watching the increase in violence in society and feel there is a lack of understanding about what anger is. Anger is just an emotion and it’s only bad if it turns into aggression, and I think that is where the problem lies,” she says.
She believes parents, schools and churches are failing children by teaching them from the moment they start throwing two-year-old tantrums that they shouldn’t be angry (through either punishment or giving in to them) and leaving them with no healthy way of dealing with it.
While insisting technology, television and social media are “fantastic” in many ways, Patricia says an over-reliance on them has exacerbated this problem and undermined the ability to build meaningful and loving relationships. This, in turn, erodes consciousness and the ability to develop spiritually and live with “Christian spirit”.
“Social media should have a capacity to do great good for relationships and the development of love, but it has to be used in the right way,” she says.
“There is a danger that because a person is not physically present, the all-important feelings associated with relationships can be dulled, especially empathy.”
She says empathy is learned through the “projections” (such as judgements and interpretations) we make, accept and withdraw during face-to-face interactions. Social media platforms don’t allow people, especially children, to see the effects of their projections and develop the self-awareness to be empathetic and compassionate.
At the same time, “there is too much divulging of one’s personal details thus creating problems of loose personal boundaries … and becoming prone to be victimised and disrespected. Good boundaries help to form a strong, confident personality.”
Patricia says this combination of self-confidence and self-awareness help to build strong psyches in children that enable them to live their faith.