Technology: Is It Serving Us or Are We Serving It?
I went to a great book discussion at my son’s school last week that turned out to be not such a discussion as a lecture on how as a whole, we as parents, are paying infinitely more attention to our phones and other technical devices than to our children.
Catherine Steiner-Adair, one of the authors of the book The Big Disconnect, spoke with compassion and humor about all of the conversations she had with children across the country between the ages of 4 and 18 years old.
She told stories of parents texting while driving their children to school, answering their phones or responding to text messages on their iPads while at the dinner table, sleeping next to their phones and checking them immediately upon awakening, and basically putting every phone call, text message or email ding before the needs to their children.
In turn, children are feeling left out, ignored and lonely. They are anxious having to listen to one-sided conversations while driving to and from school in the family car and are turning to technological devices to engage and connect to others as there are gaps in the family’s connection.
The author also spoke of the dangers of using technology as childcare. When parents give an iPhone to a fussy baby, allow children to play video games right after school or use tablets when going to sleep, the neurological impulses are responding in the opposite way than our intention. Our intention is to soothe, calm and relax, yet the neurons are firing at all cylinders. The visual and audio input is firing the brain like a pinball machine. This creates an unhealthy pattern when children seek stimulus for any and all transitions.
Another theme from the book is the way children are using their devices and engaging in social media. They are, in a word, addicted. They seek out technology in favor of playing with friends, talking on the phone or going outside.
Our children are also losing the ability to connect verbally, emotionally, responsibility and politely. There is a disconnect between themselves in person and themselves online. The kids do not appreciate and understand the difference in peer impulse online versus live. In a school setting or at home, the impulse is to be polite, engaging, humorous and fun. Online, the pressure is to shock and awe – the more awesome and riveting a post, the more the accolades. So, in a sense, bullying is rewarded in the online community. As adults, we are very aware and on top of bullying at school or on the playground, but are unaware of it within social media. Elementary and middle school children do not see this divisiveness and do not appreciate the potential impact.
So, to help our kids feel connected and understand the impact of social media, we need to be role models and disciplinarians.
We need to put away our phones and tablets and pay attention, listen and be available. We need to recognize that the most important connection we have is right in front of us. It’s who we are with, not who we could possibly be connecting with online.
We need to stop, take a breath and realize that a ringing phone or buzzing text message does not need to be immediately answered.
Let’s face it, most of us are not first responders or brain surgeons. We typically do not have loved ones in critical condition in the hospital. Generally, we are awaiting word from someone about something, but think about it. Is it important enough to disengage from those in front of us to immediately engage online? Be honest. The answer we are seeking can wait at least a few moments if not longer.
My advice is to set aside times throughout the day that you are available for technical connection. During these times, you can respond to voice mails, texts and emails. You will find yourself much calmer, focused and ironically, more productive.
As for being a disciplinarian, whose house is it anyway? A few years ago, a friend said to me, “You are so lucky that your kids aren’t on the computer that much. Mine are on all of the time.”
Just how does she think this happens? There is not a magic wand that is waved over my home that minimizes the come-hither frequency of technical devices. My two are totally normal kids – they would be on any technical platform all of the time if I let them.
So there are rules. They must ask every time (yes, this will change as they get older, but for now, it works). There are limits in every aspect – the amount of time, things to do, online availability, and location of devices in the house. The computer is located on the dining room, the timer in the kitchen is set (because I will definitely forget) and they do not have email accounts yet. There are parental controls on the websites (this is more for the outside world, than for them). The rules and limits change as they get older and we are definitely ‘behind’ every other family within their peer groups, but I am okay with that for now. We take every next step as it comes. The kids bring up the thing they have to have or do, we think about it and then get back to them with our decision and our rules, or have a discussion about how we want to handle this next phase.
My advice is to take some time before you buy that next iPad, iTouch, Xbox or Smartphone. Think about how you want your children to manage and use this device. Then set up rules that serve you and your family.
Whatever rules work for you and your family are great. For some families, there is the rule of very limited exposure during the week, but full-on during the weekend. That doesn’t work for us, but for those families who have this rule, it’s perfect.
For other families, there is a no phone policy during dinner and/or homework time, for other families, there are no phones after you come home – period. For us, we don’t have phones yet. (Yes, my son is the only one in his middle school who does not have one.)
So, think about what and how you want your days and weeks to go and then set rules or sit down and discuss it as a family.
One of the most interesting things that Catherine Steiner-Adair said at my son’s school was to the kids actually. She said that for most of the older kids she interviewed there was a unanimous cry to the younger ones to hold off on social media for as long as they could and just be kids. They felt that they entered the online community too soon and once they did, they could not stop. So, here are older kids telling younger ones to just be kids and stay offline. Very interesting.
Bottom Line :
1) Monitor yourself and your need to be technically connected. Stop and take a deep breath and focus on those around you.
2) Help your children stay off of technical devices and find other ways to have fun and connect. Play a game, listen to music, go for walk, or invite friends over to have fun.
Being connected to yourself and those immediately around you provides a much longer lasting feeling of contentment and satisfaction. Technology is wonderful, but has its place in our lives. We need to have it serve us, not serve it.
Also, refer to the post last week on Meditation 101 to learn how to connect to yourself in a deep and lasting way. Meditation is a great way to replace the need for constant online connection.