On a recent car ride, I had three eleven year olds in the back seat. Two of them were glued to their own phone devices and mine, who does not own a phone, was trying to keep up with both his friends’ devices .They were watching you tube videos, playing some games, more videos…….
As I kept looking at them from the rear view mirror, I was uneasy and restless. This cannot be the way these kids negotiate interactions with each other, not with a phone as an aide in making connections! OMG, they are missing out on the beauty of human interaction! It was my “freak out moment” which unfortunately for the kids resulted in a phone-free car on the return ride. Did my decision to withhold phones suddenly make them get the beauty of human relations that I wished for them? No, but it really made me think about my struggle with young people using the phone as an extension of their voice.
I am concerned about the emotional and social development of young people. When I observe, or talk with teens about the ways in which they use their phones to communicate, I notice that they are overwhelmed with the multiple communications they are managing at one time. I have heard many young people talk about feeling stressed, unable to sleep or have disrupted sleep. They can be texting, snap chatting, twittering……. with friends while they are doing homework, eating dinner with family or watching a movie. It feels like frenzy. Simply put, it is too much!
I have also observed that phone and electronic devices have contributed to young people’s inability to tolerate distress or difficult emotions. They seem to have internalized this idea that support from their friends is instantaneous and just a text away. It is really easy for them to create an illusion that “they are there for their friends” even when they aren’t physically present. They achieve this idea of connection by simply using their phones all the time, answering every ping, vibration or any other notification. They face the pressures of answering their phone in a timely manner. It is an irony that this very illusion of connectivity is isolating. Picture a family with each member engaged on their own device, connected virtually to someone but unable to engage with each other…. How do we unhook from this device and hook into each other?
Another issue I struggle with is the burden of permanency when using these means of communication. If I want to communicate to my friend that something she said was cool, should I write COOL or cool or add an emoji? It can all mean different things to her, and once I hit send, it is lasting. Young people are left to struggle with the consequences of not just the permanency, but the ability of others to copy, change and resend. These devices and technology are here to stay, let’s have a conversation with our young people and provide them opportunities to wizen up about how they communicate.
How many times have you found yourself reaching for your phone when you are bored? Young people are doing the same. We have gadgets everywhere, in our cars, in our bags, big and small all with the purpose of conquering boredom. I believe it is important to tolerate some amount of boredom. It is okay to be bored! When was the last time you build castles in the air as you day dreamed? Research about boredom is pointing to its positive relationship with creativity.
I am not campaigning to destroy all gadgets nor do I believe that they are taking control of us, but I do believe that we are hooked into them in ways which take us away from deepening our relationships with our loved ones and more so with ourselves.
It is in relationship with a loving, attuned, empathic caregiver that a young person can explore, learn and thrive to become adults who are attuned, empathic and loving in their relationships. How do we provide this environment for our young people?
If you wonder about some of these thoughts, I would encourage you to engage your young people in a conversation about the ways in which we invite gadgets and devices in our lives and relationships. What are some rules that your family would be willing to live with? Could you tolerate gadget free hours? Do your young people have their devices with them when they go to bed? I would be curious why they make that choice? How well do they sleep? Do they feel tired during the day?
I would encourage you to reflect on ways that you yourself are hooked into these devices? Is there a time during your busy week that you are fully present for your young person? Is this something you want? It does not have to be an elaborate plan but even small periods of sustained focused time modeled by you can be significant. Think also about encouraging your young person to lead the way on how they want to use that time interacting and relating with you. Can this time be used to play an age appropriate video game? Absolutely, because you are showing genuine interest in relating with your young person. It is a relational win.
Truly listening to one another and knowing about each other’s experiences requires a space where we can be present, a space which is not filled up with busy work or multiple distractions. This can sometimes feel like a tall order given the world that we have created. If I can start at one place, it would be to be mindful of creating spaces that are phone and gadget free zones. Allow for spaces where we can begin to truly listen to each other.
Here are two interesting articles giving differing views and thoughts about use of technology.
Grateful to companion you on this path- Mitra (friend, companion) The writer is a parent and a licensed clinical professional counselor experienced in working with families.