Let's face it, we are a society that loves its technology. We are literally and figuratively connected to our devices which such ardor that most people cannot survive a day without their phone at the ready, or <gasp> no internet connection. We text. We tweet. Mommy bloggers, like me, rely on the computer and high speed access, to share our daily musings, rants and raves with the world. So why I am so concerned with the topic, when I am clearly among the vast majority, who have made technology a cornerstone of my existence?
Well, I am just not convinced that my relationship with technology sets the best example for my children. Many of us try to limit the amount of TV that our kids watch, and monitor their computer time carefully. We have rules in place about what video games they can play, and what websites they can visit. We are attempting to teach them that technology, just like everything else, in moderation, can be an informative and entertaining accessory in the wardrobe of our lives. But our kids will learn the most from what they observe through us. If I am perpetually checking my email on the iPhone or silently scrolling through Facebook at the breakfast table, my kids are learning from an early age that this silent, non-verbal form of communication is a constant companion in our lives.
On a recent family vacation, complete with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, I sat on the floor playing with the kiddos and happened to look up around the room. From a child's perspective, I saw that I was surrounded by a room full of people completed entranced by a device in front of them. Everyone tuned into laptops, kindles, cellphones - not a single word uttered amongst them. I thought to myself, "I wonder if this is how they (the kids) always see us?".
My first clue to the potential effects of this is evidenced in Little Diva's choice of words when she wants me tell something to Sweet Hubby. Instead of saying, "can you call Daddy?", she asks, "can you send Daddy a message?" She sees that we are trending more toward using texts to keep in touch throughout the day, rather than speaking to one another on the phone. This worries me.
A recent article in my hometown newspaper, The Berkshire Eagle, cites that "texting has superseded face-to-face interaction as the most common manner of daily communication between teenagers ages 12 to 17, according to a study of the Pew Internet and American Life Project published in April." Surely, this cannot be good for the social and intellectual development of our teens. I would bet that the average teenage vocabulary has significantly decreased in recent years. Texting does not give our kids the chance to use speech creatively and eloquently. It does not teach them how to interpret body language and use non-verbal cues and inflection to express themselves. It does not teach them how to use one of our most powerful and complex attributes, the human voice.
If our children learn to devalue communication, then do they, by default, begin to devalue personal relationships? How does this affect their judgement when faced with the tough choices that they will have to make as teenagers and young adults?
I fear, that worse yet, children become desensitized to real human connections, and within this social isolation, trend toward potentially pathological behaviors. Obviously this is worse case scenario, a sort of techno-armageddon if you will. But, even on a smaller scale, I do wonder if some of the whackos that are crawling out of the woodwork these days, have suffered from a lack of social interaction caused by the omnipresence of non-personal communication.
So how do we as parents foster a healthy, yet restrained relationship with technology? Unfortunately, I don't have an answer, only more questions for myself. And a challenge to myself to set a better example, so that my kids see that we all have a real voice. That thoughts and feelings should first and foremost be expressed verbally, face-to-face. I am thinking about my own "check your phone at the door" type policy, where the phone is used for necessity and not for entertainment, making sure that our children do not ever feel that some device is taking attention away from them. I am so curious to hear how other parents feel about this.
I have also included a link to the article I mentioned. It is about a group of teens who are "bucking the trend" to be techno-dependent. That, at least, is somewhat encouraging. But also quite telling, if kids themselves are starting to see that there is a problem. Read the entire article here: Berkshire Teens Bucking the Techno Trend.