BLOG PAGE: A View from the Bridge
By Mr. Clayton
By Mr. Clayton
Recently I was at the EARCOS (East Asia Regional Council of Schools) conference in Bangkok. It is one of the key conferences in the world attracting speakers from every corner of the globe. I attended one by Dr Catherine Steiner-Adair who is a clinical instructor at the Harvard Medical School. The talk was entitled, ‘Lost in connection: how the tech effect puts children’s development at risk.’ It proved to be very interesting.
She started by outlining some of the issues that had emerged from her research. The youngsters of today are the first generation ever who prefer to text (Whatsapp etc) than talk. Why is this? There are several reasons. The smart phone activates reward centres in the brain which the brain craves. The use of texting disinhibits the sender so things that would never be said face to face become easy to text. They feel safer on technology, more emboldened. Children send bad news to their parents via text as they don’t see the shock or disappointment on the faces of their parents. The texting can be asynchronous, answers don’t have to be followed up for a long period of time. It can be left. Face to face conversations are more difficult to avoid. Finally, everyone is doing it, the peer pressure to conform is overwhelming.
So what are the consequences of all this? There are many. When texting we lose track of who we are, where we are, who we are with. Our heads go down and we descend into that world. Research shows that we lose empathy, we lose our filter. Children and adults are losing the ability to detect tone, read body language and they are increasingly avoiding eye contact. We might use devices to calm children, from a baby to a teenager. It is creating a generation of children who have less capacity for self-regulation, for reflection, a generation who can’t sit still and who find alone time or down time boring and/or anxious and impossible to fill unless they are stimulated by devices.
You may have noticed that in the previous paragraph I used ‘we.’ This is where the talk got really interesting. Her research had focused on how parents use their devices and it had thrown up some fascinating findings. Before I reveal them, hands up who has reached for a phone that wasn’t yours when you heard the ping?! Anyone checked their phones because they were sure they felt it vibrate? Who takes their phone into the bathroom? You may be close to psychological dependency! Children reported that they felt alienated by their parents when their parents used their devices. They are told by parents, ‘wait a minute I’m just checking!’ Parents use the language of drug dependency, they talk of their addiction, getting their fix, and suffering withdrawal symptoms without access to their devices. Parents are using devices all the time and sending bad messages (and not just the text variety!.) They drive and text (shown to be worse than driving drunk!) they take calls and answer texts at important times. The terrifying thing was that children who were interviewed between the ages of 3-18 about their parents’ use of devices commonly reported these key feelings, they felt angry, sad, mad, lonely, and frustrated-not a good list! So what solutions did she posit for adults? Firstly, don’t reach for your phone when it vibrates or pings when you are with your children. Nothing is more important than them. Give them your undivided attention. Secondly, don’t drive and text, you cannot multi-task I have told you before! Thirdly, don’t allow devices at the dinner table. Be careful teenagers can text with their device in their pocket while looking you full in the eye! Fourthly don’t let the device become the de facto go to electronic babysitter. Children need to learn how to be bored and deal with that boredom. Most importantly make sure you model the behaviour you want from your children. Electronic devices are here to stay. But children need to have the space to thrive and have their childhood protected. At its best modern technology is truly revolutionary. It has been a key factor for social change, it has democratised knowledge in ways we could have never dreamt of just 10 years ago. It has been a powerful tool for social justice. Please be careful that you are not ‘just checking’, don’t let these amazing devices capture your attention when your children need it most.
I have added a link here which I think is good. It came in for some criticism, but I think the point is well made.