Recently I had the opportunity and honor to hear Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair speak about her new book “The Big Disconnect.” Dr. Steiner-Adair, who is on-staff at Harvard Medical School, researched the impact of technology and “screens” on youth. Her conclusions are troubling. According to her book summary, “families are in crisis around this issue, and even more so than they realize. Not only do chronic tech distractions have deep and lasting effects, but children desperately need parents to provide what tech cannot: close, significant interactions with the adults in their lives.”
Here’s a brief summary of my take-aways:
- Texting is profoundly changing the way we communicate – primarily because tone of voice is critical to conveying our message. Our children are the first generation who believe talking is too intense. Consequently, in the end, while this may be the most connected generation, this deficit of human interaction, may result in a lack of intimacy and emotional maturity required of healthy relationships.
- Children feel anger, sadness and loneliness while trying to attract their parent’s attention away from their “screens” (phones, computers and other devices).
- Good kids from good families are getting into big trouble because of mis-used technology (i.e. sexting, pornography, cyber-bullying). Parents must learn to be calm, informed and approachable and avoid shaming or over-reacting when an incident happens.
- The process of identity, one of the critical tasks of adolescence, is different for this generation. The question of “who am I” is answered in a public forum by how ones’ online persona is perceived. This is especially troubling for girls who can obsess over their appearance in the plethora of digital photos posted.
- The values of the online community (i.e. cool to be cruel, shock and awe builds social capital, being exploited is a game, lying and cheating gets you ahead) probably conflict with your family values.
- Kids don’t get a break from school or friends and must be “on” 24/7, constantly monitoring what’s happening online. This causes stress, anxiety, the fear of being left out or feeling less than.
Screens are here to stay so parents must be more vigilant than ever to protect youth from their negative outcomes. First and foremost, parents must realize that what they do is more powerful than what they say. During her research, children told Dr. Steiner-Adair how parents texted while driving, used their screens constantly while telling them “to hold on” and bring phones to the dinner table. Consider the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do” as you monitor your screen use throughout the day.
Secondly, parents must put limits and boundaries on screen use for everyone, especially young children.
Finally, she advises creating intentional family time (no screens of course) and acknowledges the importance of mindfulness, solitude and being in nature.