Too Much Technology is Affecting Families

Technology is a blessing.
Think of all the advancements our society has made over the last twenty years!
People can communicate around the world in seconds. Messages of support, reassurance, and conviction span social media and show in thousands of news feeds. Non-profits and churches can spread their messages beyond geographical locations and reach receptive audiences worldwide. In the entire history of the world, people have never been so connected to each other.

However, lately I have become aware of the negative effects of our technology overload.
As I look back over the last 15 years, I notice a trend in our inability to communicate well to each other. When I started college in 2003, people waved as they walked around the college campus. Very few people wore headphones or carried cellphones. Cellphones were simply "mobile" phones at that point in time; smart phones were not invented yet.

As we walked to class, we talked to each other. We smiled. We said "Hello" to each other.
Then came to I-Pods.
More and more people began walking around with headphones glued to their ears. Less waving. More isolated zoning out. Less smiling at each other.
Then came the smart phones.
More and more people began carrying phones with them constantly. People stared at screens while they walked. Very little waving. Little smiling. Little facial recognition with each other.
Then came the explosion of apps!
Instead of chatting in the hallways after class, people glued their faces to their phones. Instead of talking over lunch meals, people scrolled through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to connect with each other. FaceTime became an app, instead of actual personable face-to-face time.
Then came the emoticons and text lingo.
One downside to texting versus talking was the inability to read people's emotions or voice tone over text. That flaw was "fixed' with the emergence of hundreds of emoticons, which are small pictures to convey your emotions in a message. Shortened phrases then replaced actual words. Phrases like "lol" and "jk" have become commonplace words in spoken society. Many teenagers today spend more time texting and IMing their friends than they actually use spoken words.

Talking as a form of communication seems to have devolved into shortened status updates.

As a counselor, I have seen the effects of poor communication skills wreaking havoc in my clients' lives. Spouses are unable to fully problem-solve together; parents are dumbfounded about how to reach their kids; teenagers struggle to identify their feelings. Jealousy, isolation, and fear create pressure for likes and comments. Relationships have ended over Facebook wars, which would have never been started if a face-to-face conversation had been initiated.

But I digress. Sorry it took me so long to reach the point of this blog post, which is that too much technology is harmful, especially for kids. Not only for the lack of communication skills that I briefly described above, but for the lack of creativity and imaginative play as well.

In a research study by child psychologist Yekaterina Murashova, 68 teenagers were asked to spend the day alone without any type of technology. No radio, no television, no phones, and no computer time. The researcher wanted to see how the teenagers would spend their time in order to assess their imaginative skills.

The results of the study shocked me!
Only 3 teenagers could spend eight hours alone at home without technology.

Even scarier were the thoughts and feelings the participants felt during their alone time:
"Three of the participants had suicidal thoughts."
"Five of them experienced intense panic attacks."
"Twenty-seven experienced symptoms such as nausea, sweating, dizziness, hot flushes and abdominal pain."
"Almost everyone who took part experienced feelings of fear and anxiety."

Within a couple hours of alone time, almost all the teenagers felt anxiety with no positive emotions. Some of the participants tried to read or do homework or practice an instrument. But they couldn't last for more than a few hours without a connection to technology. Even more shocking to me as a counselor was their inability to sleep. Zero of the teenagers were able to nap during their alone time at home. Then ones that tried couldn't fall asleep because of the new thoughts pounding around in their brain. The removal of technology caused that much distress.

For those that left the experiment early, there was an almost immediate reaction to put in headphones and connect to social media. As soon as those teenagers were re-connected to tech, all the anxious feelings went away. Doesn't that sounds like an addiction? Like a druggie needing their fix to feel calm again? A 2010 University of Maryland study "found many young people describe their dependence on the Internet as an addiction, even if they’re not officially diagnosable."

And it's not just the kids suffering from an overload of technology. Parents and families are feeling more disconnected as well. Tanya Schevitz, spokesperson for Canada's National Day of Unplugging suggested this constant state of alertness has been pulling children away from their parents. "Kids aren't getting the same connection with their parents as they got before this technology existed." When parents are glued to their devices, they show less empathy to their children too. Schevitz' recommendation is "to take a pause from the technology that consumes our lives and reconnect with the people and community who are all around us but are lost in the noise of today's relentless deluge of information."

I think that our brains are wired to immediately catch the attention of moving pictures and media. Technology sucks us in, even if we are enjoying another activity. My husband and I have even "experimented" with this idea on our little kids. They'll be coloring, running cars, or otherwise happily playing along, and we'll pull up a YouTube video on our phones. Immediately, they run to us begging, "I want to see, I want to see!" If Johnny comes home from work and the kids are playing in their room, they immediately run to the door screaming, "Daddy's home! Daddy's home!" But, if the television is on, Daddy comes home to a muted response. I'll say excitedly, "Hey guys - Dad's home! Come look!" And their response is silence or a quick hug and jog back to the TV.

Plus, have you ever been able to successfully take a Kindle or an I-Pad away from a 4yr old without tears? Simon can promise all he wants to let go of the Kindle when it's time. He'll promise not to whine. He'll promise to obey the "one more turn" warning. But the little guy can't follow through. We've stopped letting him play games on the Kindle because of the encompassing meltdown that follows. Our kids are generally pretty sweet and kind, but we can tell when they've been around technology too much. Their attitudes change. They're crankier. They whine and cry sooo much.

For decades, parents have used coloring books and toys to entertain their kids. Morning cartoons offer fun, educational entertainment. Fresh air and outside time refresh parents and kids. I hope that we can move more towards playtime and talking time, and move away from a dependence on technology. For our own emotional stability, we need to unplug more. Our kids need to unplug more.

So, comment below, and then put away your device and go connect with your family members face-to-face.

Labels: , ,