Instinctively we know that growing up in a digital world, interacting with devices and apps can interfere with bonding and socialization. And yet the temptation is great to rely upon the device to sooth and occupy fussy children, or avoid discomfort of dealing with boredom, conflict or disagreement. The reality is devices do not build individual resilience and confidence; rather they can make us feel isolated and insecure. In many conversations with parents and educators I hear the common concern that young people seem to have trouble making eye contact.
Not surprisingly, a recent article by a couple of professors at Flinders University in Australia and Stony Brook University in New York features a new social phenomenon resulting from texting and mobile connectivity called virtual distance. Virtual distance is essentially a disconnect from interpersonal connection that results in diminished capacity for language and communication skills that involve sharing a passion, rather than simply transferring information. These professors find that there is an inverse relationship between connectivity and connectedness – as connectivity increases, connectedness loses out. When children lack the interpersonal exchange of direct face-to-face interaction with parents, they are left with the interactive modeling of the apps or the screen, which, after all, does not have a heart. It is difficult then for children to experience trustworthiness in sharing thoughts and feelings with another person. They are more vulnerable and less capable to develop good relationships on and off line.
Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
And we also know that the problem with digital technology isn’t the technology. It is the inappropriate use that inhibits communication skill building; skills that involve spiritual as well as mental stimulation and development. Jon Daily, LCSW and CDACII, is the founder of Recovery Happens, outpatient drug addiction and intervention treatment services headquartered in Fair Oaks, California. He explains what brain science tells us about how the neurobiological regulatory systems of the brain that make us feel good, secure and stable are built through human relationships. We learn to control impulses and relate to others in a civilized and loving way through parent-child, family and friend relationships; it is learned behavior that impacts brain chemistry to feel validated and secure. “It is how we ‘get got’ or connected to one another,” Daily said. “It is learned by experiences in relationship with other people that build the neuro-regulatory and reward systems in the brain.” According to Daily, anything that interferes with this bonding and training of the brain neurochemistry can cripple a child’s capacity to seek relationships at home, work and in the community that are genuinely fulfilling. That is why the most important parental control in the home, is the mental discipline around the house rules for appropriate use of the devices.
What texting has taught us about the parent-child trust bond
Virtual distance inspired by over-dependence upon texting happens over time as you are sitting together and giving your attention to the screen or the device, not the person you are with. Over time this inspires a lack of trust as there is less comfort sharing ideas and needs with another person. At home when there is too much time devoted to the screen, children eventually learn to keep their thoughts to themselves.
Establish that use of technology is not a right, it is a privilege. Just like learning to drive the car, use of technology requires training and certification for safe use.
Regulation of the use of the device establishes personal control. Explain to your child that to be in command of your own world, you need to establish and maintain boundaries for when the device will be used. Otherwise you risk becoming a slave to the device. Age-appropriate boundaries can be set through cyber rites of passage (see free eBook) that identify family and individual approved apps and levels of independence depending upon age and demonstrated good judgment.
Texting can enhance communication with your child. Tweens and teens embrace texting as a main artery of communication, so it is important to use it for matters that do not require interpersonal communication. Some examples of when texting is a good thing include: to verify facts, coordinate dates and locations, parity checks, or simple updates. For example, you may text your child when dinner is ready that day, but if there is a serious topic that has to do with boundaries or issues of the heart, and then do not rely upon texting toyou’re your point across. Rather, text your child that you need to see her in person, and then have the conversation face-to-face. Discipline via texting is not a good idea.
To learn more about creating a family culture characterized by open communication and individual resilience, go to: Fresh Start.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and spiritual resilience. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.