The Big Disconnect | Notes & Review

Posted on November 14, 2013


Catherine Steiner-Adair. The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. Harper, 2013. (374 pages)


Introduction: The Revolution in the Living Room

All the wisdom in the world about child-rearing cannot, by itself, replace intimate human ties, family ties, as the center of human development … the point of departure for all sound psychological thinking. – Selma Fraiberg, The Magic Years

Alarm travels fast through the human brain. Awareness dawns more slowly. (1)

Tech Is Our New Home Page

Designed to serve us, please us, inform us, entertain us, and connect us, over time our digital devices have finally come to define us. (4)

…the truth is that research shows we are in fact enjoying neurochemical hits and fixes — the neurotransmitter dopamine most notably — in the brain’s pleasure centers when we’re “on” our devices. Talk of addiction is not hyperbole; it is a clinical reality in some users’ lives today. (5)

It is the parental paradox of our time: never before has there been so much opportunities for families to plug in and at the same time disconnect. (7)

I am always struck by the one eternal and incontrovertible truth about families: children need their parents’ time and attention and families thrive when parents have strong, healthy relationships with their children and children are attuned to the family milieu. But this reality can be so easily lost when we are lured away by the siren call of the virtual world.

What Children See: Parents Missing in Action

We read so much about kids tuning out and living online, but that’s only half the problem. … Every day there are twenty Google alerts about kids and tech. Where are the Google alerts with critical concerns about parents and tech? We complain about kids’ love affair with tech, but children — even those who love their screens and smartphones — describe in almost identical ways a sense that their parents are virtually missing in action, routinely either engaged in cell phone conversation and texting or basking in the glow of the computer screen with work or online pastimes. (11)

In a play therapy session, seven-year-old Annabel talks about the loneliness and distress she feels when she is unable to get her parents’ attention. “My parents are always on their computers and on their cell phones,” she tells me. “It’s very, very frustrating and I get lonely inside.”

“What do you do when that happens?” I ask.

She then acts it out for me, with the expressive eyes, face, and voice that breaks my heart:

When my dad is on the phone I have this conversation in my head: “Hello! Remember me? Remember who I am? I am your daughter You had me cuz you wanted me. Only it doesn’t feel like that right now. Right now it feels like all — you — care — about — is your phone!”

Then she adds:

But I don’t say that, because they’ll get mad at me. It doesn’t help. It feels worse. So it’s just the conversation I have with myself.

You versus U: Why Your Child Needs the Real Thing

Parents’ chronic distraction can have deep and lasting effects on their children. Psychologists know this from work with children who grow up with unavailable, disconnected, or narcissistic parents; they struggle and often don’t do very well. In addition to the issue of distracted supervision putting children at risk for injury, at some point distracted, tech-centered parenting can look and feel to a child like having a narcissistic parent or an emotionally absent, psychologically neglectful one. (16)

Children don’t need us constantly, but they do need to experience our being there for them, genuinely connected with them, at ties when our presence matters to them. (17)

…tech has not only sucked us in; it has gained a de facto coparenting role: continuously engaging, informing, entertaining, and modeling its digital version of the connected life. If we are too busy to spend time with our kids, too busy to listen to them, or too intimidated or overwhelmed by tech to respond to them, an online world of “intimate strangers” or diversions is ever ready to welcome them. (18)

The trouble with tech as a coparent lies in what it can and cannot do. …it cannot provide the direct, nourishing, and uniquely human dimension of relationship essential for healthy neurological and psychological development in human children. (18)

Families at the Intersection Where Cultures Converge, Collide, or Collapse

Our Relationship with Technology versus Our Relationship with One Another

Technology has changed the basic construct of our relationships. It has triangulated our connections with each other, becoming the ubiquitous third party in our conversations, sometimes connecting us, but often interrupting us and ultimately disconnecting us. | What originated as a mechanism for communication is now driving, demanding, and sometimes distorting our communication. (23)

Digitalized Childhood: Deciding What We Want for Our Children

I believe the digitalized life we now take for granted is taking a far greater toll on family cohesion and childhood itself than we imagine, or perhaps than we want to allow ourselves to imagine. (25)

One thing is clear: the brain processes mediated interaction differently from the way it processes direct human-to-human interaction. (27)

Parenthood: The Ultimate Role-Play Game

Winifred Gallagher, in her book Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, describes the “grand unifying theory of psychology” as simply this: Your life is the sum of what you focus on. … Without being aware of it, we’ve shifted our attention from the primacy of nourishing family connections in the ordinary ways children need it, and turned instead to self-interests, work, and other sources of fulfillment. Left to their own devices, our children will do the same. (29)

Chapter 1 | Lost in Connection: How the Tech Effect Puts Children’s Development at Risk

Stimulation has replaced connection, and I think that’s what you need to watch out for. – Ned Hallowell, Psychiatrist and author of Driven to Distraction

The tech paradox we all confront as parents is that the very thing that can get our kids in deep trouble can also deepen and enrich their lives in unimaginable ways. (36)

Too often, conversations about child development focus on what a child can do and how to make it happen faster, when instead we should be talking about how a child can think, how the developing young brain is prepared to process experience, and how we can support that growth in healthy ways. (37)

Tech Replaces Family Primacy: What’s @ Stake as Peers and Pop Culture Delete Parents

Family creates our first experience of ourselves in the world, and it becomes the foundation of our view of the world. … Family is the organzing theme around which our consciousness grows … It is where we begin to define ourselves relative to others, and as part of the larger story of family, community, history, and humankind. At the deepest level, it is where we first discover ourselves. – Harvey Rich, In the Moment: Celebrating the Everyday

In child development, when we talk about “the primacy of family” we are not simply suggesting that family is very important to a child as a home base. We are referring to the family’s role as the deepest, most profoundly defining influence in a child’s formation of self — her neurological, psychological, and physiological growth and development. (39)

Every time our child’s texting, TV, electronic games, and social networking take the place of family, and every time our tech habits interrupt our time with them, that pattern is broken and the primacy of family takes another hit. (41)

Kids are bright and they sense when their parents are present and they know when they are not. – Liz Perle, cofounder and editor in chief of Common Sense Media

Too Much, Too Soon: The Premature Loss of Childhood Innocence

Children come to life innocent, unaware of the harsh aspects of pain and suffering and how cruel people can be. Part of the job of parenting is to protect them from that harsh truth long enough for them to develop a sense of goodness and core values of optimism, trust, and internal curiosity, and a hunger for learning. If they see too much too soon — before they’re neurologically and emotionally ready to process it — it can short-circuit that natural curiosity. (41)

…the adult culture “adultifies” children. (42)

Tech Trades Away Family and Personal Privacy and Exposes Vulnerabilities

The Indelible Digital Footprint Makes Errors Costly

Empathy Is the Missing “E” in our E-Culture

The development of empathy comes from direct experience that lays down neural pathways in both the left and right hemispheres of the brain and through the body: to say we “feel” empathy for someone is biologically accurate. (50)

When those neurons fire “they dissolve the border between you and others,” … That’s empathy. (51)

Tech Takes Away Time for Independent, Self-Generated, Creative Play at Every Age

Tech Is Eroding the Capacity for Sustained Attention

Children’s rooms are now almost pathogenic because they have so many distractions – Martha Bridge Denckla

The Internet promotes a hunt-and-bump dynamic — you hunt and bump around looking for information. – Steven Fine

We have to be concerned about tech habits that train our children for compulsive connection and fast-twitch wiring. We may feel that by the time a kid is sixteen, he is old enough to know he has to pay attention when he crosses the street. But the fact is that when our tech habits condition the brain for distraction and dopamine hits, then that is what the brain seeks. (59)

Can You Hear Me Now?: The Art of Conversation Is Getting Lost in Tech Translation

As our kids have grown accustomed to the detached and superficial quality of texting and online messaging, they have become averse to spontaneous conversation. They’d rather avoid it: with you, with their friends, with anyone. They describe a phone conversation, even with a friend, as “too intense,” or “so intrusive.” (61)

This disconnect is most concerning when we see it eroding the foundations of communication on which love, deep relationships, and emotional commitments are built. (62)

The emotional detachment of digital correspondence is now the norm. (62)

When texting begins to take the place of substantive in-person conversations for any of us, we are training the language and speech centers of our brain for a new, unnatural, and superficial model of connection. When that training starts early, as it does now for young texters, they get so used to it at such a young age that, unlike the newborn baby who innately knows something is missing and complains about it, our older tech-trained children don’t even know what they have lost. (63)

Lisa: I Text Therefore I Am

Thoughtful conversation is one way we humanize our experience in a largely dehumanized digital culture. It remains a universal way in which parents provide something children need that they can’t get from tech. Kids depend on their parents for caring, candid conversation about life. Not just life with a capital L, and all the big issues and long-range plans that implies, but little-l life, not small at all, but personal and individual, teeming with the details of the day. For that kind of textured, nuanced conversation, reflection and hashing things through, tech can’t deliver. That’s what parents are for. (64)

…while they may not miss the practice of conversation, they do feel a sense of loss when that connection is missing. (65)

Closeness counts. There is no substitute for genuine felt connection. We cannot control the culture outside our homes, but as parents we can create the culture we choose inside our families and communities. (65)

Chapter 2 | The Brilliant Baby Brain: No Apps or Upgrades Needed

Look, the brain of the child is shaped by the interactions they have with parents — that’s just absolutely clear. We need to be in the physical and relational world before we reduce it down to screens. – Dan Siegel

Tech offers nothing your baby needs more than you. (68)

The first and continuing lesson your infant learns form you is that she exists. … The baby brain comes hardwired for human relationship because that is the most essential connection for survival and all future learning. And the single most important relationship is the one your baby finds with you. (69)

Tech not only changes the iconic picture of the parent-child relationship in early childhood — it changes the relationship itself. (70)

He’s just lying here and playing, so I’m on the iPad and suddenly he stops playing and he’s looking at me! I mean so many times — that happens 90 percent of the time — and I don’t know at what point he stopped playing and started looking at me. It breaks my heart because I don’t know how long he has been staring at me. I mean, what is he thinking? I feel so guilty that I’m not present with hi and he knows it. It’s one thing if I’m unloading the dishwasher and talking to him. That doesn’t require brainpower, but e-mail does. It’s impossible to really be doing both. I know he knows I am completely disengaged, you can just see it in his eyes. So what does that mean to him [that] we are both in the same room together and I’m not being present with him?

…based on long-standing research of infants’ reactions to their mother’s voice and facial expressions, we know that Henry is indeed capable of detecting that his mother is disengaged. We also know that babies are often distressed when they look to their parent for a reassuring connection and discover the parent is distracted or uninterested. … More recent studies using brain imaging scans on infants show that brain centers critical for higher order learning and language development  “light up” when a mother is present and fully engaged as she speaks to her baby. When the mother’s proximity changes, the brain’s response changes, too. (71)

“instrumental parenting” — the human habit of collecting and introducing our children to material things — we influence what our infants pay attention to, what they become “most aware of, become most familiar with, and think most about.” A parent’s focus of attention — whether it is cookies or computer screens or books — becomes the infant’s object of desire. (71-72)

…no matter how brief, screen activity locks our attention, visual and otherwise, in a way that excludes everyone and everything around us. Even when we multitask, the second we engage in a screen the accompanying disconnect from those around us is palpable. (73)

“reflective parenting,”

A crucial part of parenting in that first year or two is that you realize that if you are going to be a responsible and responsive parent, then it’s all about the baby — you are going to come second, and that’s a hard lesson. – Donna Wick

…everything an infant needs to thrive happens offline, off screens. … When we triangulate our relationship with our babies and tech, we compromise that essential connection. (75)

Nature, Nurture, and Multitasking

Parenthood is a reciprocal process in which our babies and the act of parenting make us who we are. (76)

Babies and toddlers are dependent on us in so many ways, we sometimes overlook the brilliant teachers they are and the enormous task they set out from birth to do: develop our skills to be the loving, effective parents they need to prepare them to be able learners in the wider world. From the moment they are born, long before they become verbal, they are teaching us how to be parents, grooming our intuitive sense, teaching us to understand their needs, wants, and ways of being. (77)

Your interactions with your baby are the classroom of early childhood. Language, reading, play, movement, all of it begins with you and the quality of the connection you establish and continue to nourish from birth through the early years. Teach cannot do it, but tech can come between the two of you, and it can undo some of the critical brain building under way. (77)

The Sensorium: The Baby Brain’s Bandwidth for Development

Everything your baby sees, hears, tastes, and touches, every move or sound she makes, every sensation and emotion she experiences — and all of your interactions with her — contributes to the robust development of the sensorium. (78)

Unlike speech and language development, for which the brain comes equipped with neural circuitry from day one, there are no ready circuitries in the brain for reading. (79) [VIA: This is fascinating. cf. Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy]

Contrary to what commercial educational or developmental learning programs would have you believe, when we talk about whether media content, toys, or gadgets are developmentally appropriate, we are not talking about whether an infant or toddler can manipulate a device or sit still for a show. We are talking about what it does to them when they do. Just because your baby can tap a touch screen to change a picture does not mean that he should, that it is a developmentally useful or appropriate activity for him. In fact, research suggests that the process of tapping a screen or keypad and engaging with the screen activity may itself be rerouting brain development in ways that eliminate development of essential other neural connections your child needs to develop reading, writing, and higher-level thinking later. (79)

Specifically, it appears that babies need what we call an embodied connection to stimulate the part of the brain that governs language development. (80)

…studies show that in comparisons of children under two whose parents used an array of video and other auxiliary language learning aids and those who learned without the aids, language development was superior in the ones who learned without. (81)

There is nothing better for the development of language than human language…people talking to them. – Maryanne Wolf

It is in the textured dynamic or “charge” of interpersonal relationship that children learn language best. (81)

All the research underscores our need for caution in how we introduce children to tech, especially in the first two years of life. Research as well as personal experience tell us that when grown-ups watch TV or any screen in the presence of children, they don’t interact directly with the child with the same focus, pace, attention, or the visceral, immediate connection that stimulates a baby’s healthy neurological and social development. (82)

Bait and Switch: Things Are Not What They Seem

One reason TV and tech are especially risky from birth to two is that the stimulus-response mode — instant gratification — is so engaging that we may easily mistake our child’s keen interest in it for “learning.” Psychologically and educationally, a very different kind of learning is under way. (84)

Core Lessons Come from Human Tone and Touch

When we hand our baby a touch screen to keep her occupied or entertained, she’s missing the opportunity to engage herself — literally, to engage with her own inner self, her feelings, and processes for learning and adapting in the moment. A core aspect of infancy and childhood is the range of learning comes from human touch and vocal interaction, from the rhythm and pacing of communication. (84-85)

At each developmental stage the capacity to soothe yourself and calm yourself down, to deal with impulsivity, tolerate frustration, work through boredom to creativity, to make transitions from sleep to awake to play to eating develops through practice. It is in those human-to-human interactions day after day after day that our children learn these fundamental lessons that prepare them for all future learning. (85-86)

Teach Goes Faster Than the Speed of Life

Babies Need to Shake, Rattle, and Roll IRL

These are the  roots of the resiliency, grit, and optimism they need for life. (87)

On Screens Your baby Is “in the Zone,” but with Whom?

Real Babies Need Real Read-Aloud Time

We will have a generation of readers highly adept at handling multiple pieces of information streaming in at them every second, bu they will lack the means — literally the very circuits in the brain — for deeper revelation. – Maryanne Wolf

For now, take the TV out of the room, power down the screens, pick up a book, and read with your child. Let your baby plug into you. (90)

Turn Down the Volume on Commercial Pitches and Promises of Parenting Paradise

The most insidious thing is that these voices are not just selling a product, they are selling a way of life, an unchallenged assumption that tech is fine for babies, great for parents, and the sooner you join the crowd, the happier you and your baby will be. (91)

Everywhere, the loose use of persuasive language covers sins of omission. (93)

Stimulation has replaced connection, and I think that’s what you need to watch out for. – Ned Hallowell

An app is not a “safe distraction” like a stuffed animal or a musical mobile. An app is a stimulant, and overstimulating a baby’s brain is not safe. Nor is an app educational in the way a parent would hope. (93)

Alice in Wonderland’s Wake-Up Call

New Pathways of the Heart and Mind

Let your baby’s room be a screen-free room. Let the space between you be tech free. Read to your baby without interruption. Keep your eyes on your baby as she’s crawling and climbing. When your left-brain multitasker says, “Just do it,” let your right-brain relational self respond, “Just say no.” Create rituals for you and your baby, and separate rituals for you and your screen. Preserve what your infant needs from you and give yourself the uninterrupted time to get your work done. Of course there will be times you will need to take a call, check an e-mail, or multitask. but the more we can do this mindfully and consistently for our children, the more likely we are to preserve the primacy of we. (97-98)

Chapter 3 | Mary Had a Little iPad: The Wisdom of Tradition, the Wonder of Tech: Ages Three to Five

There is an inner life and an imaginal self that is developing in a child, and honoring that means not clouding it with images that are prefab and pre-made. It means letting that inner child’s view evolve and be shaped through exploration with real materials in the world that evokes the imaginative mind of the child. It isn’t that tech is necessarily a bad thing for a child’s mind, it’s that you have a window of time in a child’s development where touch imagination, movement, and language come together. There has to be a time to develop it. – Janice Toben

As we consider the best way to introduce our preschoolers to TV, media, and tech, the questions we need to ask are not consumer questions… More important is the developmental question. (103)

Subtle Changes Emerging int he Classic Picture of Preschoolers at Play

…preschool teachers report a similar flat spot in the social-emotional bell curve, with fewer three-, four-, and five-year-olds showing the traits of persistent learners an original thinkers eager to engage. More wait for direction from teachers or they use TV or screen game ideas or scripts to structure their play with other children. The level of creativity and originality in their play has diminished, too, reflecting less sophisticated thought processing and imagination. (105)

Many young children do not have as deep reservoirs for managing the discomfort of learning, the teachers say. And learning is full of uncomfortable moments. (105)

They need to experience the challenge, the struggle, the mistake, the discomfort, and the gain, again and again. (106)

Compared to peers a decade ago, preschool-age children today are more impulsive, less practiced at waiting their turn in play or discussion, and slower to pick up on the need for it in the group setting, teachers tell me. They have more difficulty making transitions from one activity to another; they make less eye contact with teachers and one another, and, perhaps related, they have more difficulty identifying emotions — their own or other children’s. To manage our emotions, we need to be able to read them; to understand our impact on someone else, we need to be able to read theirs. This basic emotional literacy is essential for learning how to get alone — why “plays well with others” is more than just a nicety on the preschool report card. A child who cannot do this by age five or six will have a steep learning curve upon starting elementary school. That learning curve is getting longer for children whose experience of face-to-face interactions and conversation with adults about feelings is shrinking. (106)

Thinking means not just having a verbal or visual image, but being able to take that image, manipulate it, combine it with other images, and then organize these at different levels. – Greenspan and Shanker

What media and tech do so much in the emotional lives of young children is to come between parent and child with those constant mini-moments of disconnect or distraction — on both sides. When that happens, our parenting signal weakens and media moves in with its own messages. (107-108)

Media Mixes Signals for Learning Emotional Literacy

Most of all, it is the connection you create with your child through everyday caring and closeness that gives rise to all the other learning. | These are the years when you begin to teach your child what it means to be more fully human: that we have a wide range of emotions — a wonderful thing — but that if we let our emotions run wild then our behavior can hurt us or other people. Emotional intelligence begins when we learn to identify emotions — recognize when we are sad or angry or happy or disappointed — and develops as we learn to make sense of emotions and express them in healthy, productive ways. (109)

Your child counts on you to bring order to emotionality. Your responses teach him how to relate to his own inner experience. (110) [VIA: also called “cueing”]

Protecting Our Zones of Interaction with Our Young Children

As tempting as it is for us to want to dismiss our children’s anger, to get angry at them for being angry, or to try to distract them, children learn how to handle anger and disappointment and frustration best in relationships with grown-ups who are clearly not angry at them for feeling angry. They need to know that you love them when they are angry, that you will stay with them when they are frustrated, and that you will not get frustrated with them. They need to see that you can hold their anger and help them hold it and resolve it by soothing them and empathizing with them. (121-122)

The first step is to slow down and really study your child to more fully understand his or her individual makeup — the unique rhythms, receptivity, and sensitivities to surroundings, personal interactions — to understand the child’s internal experience of emotions or physical sensations. (123)

When Our Tech Habits Say I Need You to Stop Needing Me

In order for us to be the best parent we want to be for our child — engaged and fully present for back-and-forth emotional communication and focused and playful interactions and explorations — our tech habits are just as important as our child’s. If we are constantly disappearing into our screens and absenting ourselves from the flow of dialogue with our child, as parents, we are playing hooky. (124)

Protecting the Magic of “the Magic Years”

As we begin to explore the wonders of media and tech with our three- and four-year-olds, we need to remind ourselves to let a game of dress-up be a real game of dress-up and let our children make their own magic. (128)

Chapter 4 | Fast-Forward Childhood: When to Push Pause, Delete, and Play: Ages Six to Ten

There’s Nothing Elementary about It

The Inner Critic: New Pressure to Measure Up bigger, Better, Faster

As the inner critic grows, parents become indispensable as the voice of the inner ally, the voice that helps balance a child’s innermost sense of himself. For the child, a parent’s optimistic steady encouragement becomes the child’s internalized voice that says I can handle this, I’m a good friend, I’m a good person, I know right from wrong, I take good care of myself, I’m a good helper. (136)

In Over Their Heads: Too Much, Too Soon, Too Fast

Long-established insights into children’s learning and their inner lives tells us that in the ways that matter most, speed derails the natural pace of development. Pressure to grow up faster or exposing children to content or influences beyond their developmental ken does not make them smarter or savvier sooner. Instead, it fast-forwards them past critical steps in the developmental process. (137-138)

Studies already suggest that media and social networking play a role in loneliness, depression, attention problems, and tech addiction among adolescents. Other findings also show media exposure contributing to impulsivity and aggression among younger children. (139)

The Gender Code Starts Younger, Sexier, and More Aggressive Than Ever

When given the chance, kids can learn to outsmart cultural stereotypes, but they need constant reinforcement in these prosocial, upbeat ways. Short of meaningful conversations about what it means to be a man or a woman in our culture and how to define yourself and others by a more respectful standard than the media provides, we leave our kids to learn from those same skewed sources. This is moral education in action. (147)

Cool-to-Be-Cruel Rules from Playground to Blog Posts

When you act from a distance or anonymously, you remove that critical piece of social and emotional learning — how to read the impact of your behavior on someone else. This undermines not only the development of empathy but also of understanding and accountability. (148)

Children Have Too Much Access to Ugly Stuff

Even when children this age know that something isn’t “real,” their experience of virtual reality feels real and, for some, disturbing. The connection between virtual and real life experience isn’t fully understood, but the notion that pornography and screen violence have no effect on children is “wildly naïve in the twenty-first century, says researcher Jackson Katz. “to think otherwise is to live in a fantasy world. Media structures and shapes our psyches and our fantasy life.” (153)

Kids Can’t Pull the Plug on a Good Time — It’s Our Job to Show Them How

Neuroimaging suggests that when kids play violent video games, the medial prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that allows us to balance our emotions, be empathetic, and make thoughtful decisions — becomes less active. … And at the same time, the amygdala — the part of the brain that causes us to act before we think, be territorial, and reactive — becomes more active. Keep in mind that repeated activation in the brain impacts how the brain is wired. The brain develops what it gets practice doing. The content matters, not just in terms of what kids’ eyes and minds are exposed to, but in terms of how the circuitry of their brains gets activated and wired. – Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole-Brain Child

Slowing It Down: Strudel Theory and the Alchemy of Time

We can and must layer experience over time to help children grow strong and resilient. – JoAnn Deak

Rush a cake and it fails. Rush childhood and the time for layered learning at an individual pace is lost forever. There is no going back. The way we parent our children at this age is so important because if we cannot slow ourselves down to do the essential work of connecting to our kids and teaching them in these years, tech will raise them instead. (159)

Chapter 5 | Going, Going, Gone: Tweens, Screens, and the Perils of Independence; Ages Eleven to Thirteen

Don’t let your kids have computers in their room before age thirteen – you lose them if you let them have them earlier. I haven’t seen my brother the entire year since he has a computer in his room. It’s really sad. He’s in sixth grade. – Dave, fifteen

We call them “tweens” to designate their developmental locus between two worlds, childhood and adolescence. But in truth that notion of two worlds is outdated; access to the online world and social media has jettisoned preteens unprotected into the adult world. (165)

Tweens Meet World: Coming of Age in the Age of Butt-Dialing

A 2011 study of teens, kindness, and cruelty on social network sites found that while teens across all demographic groups generally had positive experiences watching how their peers treated each other on social network sites, younger teenage girls (ages twelve to thirteen) stood out as considerably more likely to say their experience was that people are mostly unkind. (173)

“Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out”

When Hanging Out Turns to Zoning Out

…we are learning from clinical experience that the seeds of addiction in the teen years often are sown in the middle school years, as more tweens have access to tech and are developing habits that can easily tip toward dependence. (177)

For any child using screen time to de-stress, the risk is that he or she isn’t getting the kind of conversation and interaction with parents, friends, or family that help develop the self-regulation skills and emotional insights they need. The more they depend on their computers to cope with underlying, often unidentified problems, the greater the chances their dependency can turn into an addiction. (182)

Sexual Development, Drives, and Diversions Color the Tween Scene

“Safe sex” means more than condoms. Without conversation we leave them psychologically unprotected for exposure to sexual content in the media and adolescent culture. (184)

“Throwing Them into This World…Kids Make Terrible Mistakes Every Day”

The idea that online anonymity provides a safe cover for meanness is true but not the whole truth.

I really think that kids know what the impact is, and they’re doing it specifically to generate that impact. I don’t think it takes away the capacity for empathy, I think it just makes it easier to be worse and to be more powerful the more removed you are. – Robert Warren

Parents often tell me they feel lost defining limits on computer use because their kids are on screens for so many different reasons and seem to assume they’re entitled to do as they wish. The basic message you want to send then is this: This is not your computer — I know it has your name on it, but this is my computer (or your school’s computer). I’m your parent and I reserve the right to see everything that’s going on there. You need to be on the computer in an open place. I have the right to know what your homework assignment is. You can’t be in your room with the door closed. You can’t take it to bed with you. You can’t collapse a screen when I walk by. We have a code of conduct and we expect you to stick with it: don’t be mean, don’t lie, don’t embarrass other people, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not, don’t go to places you’re not allowed to go. Don’t post pictures that Grandma wouldn’t love. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t approve of. (191)

courage… (192)

Your tweens really do want to understand how you see the world, what matters to you, your values. And they want to feel that you want to understand what matters to them. They want to be able to bring all the identities they are trying on that day, without you overreacting or getting too preachy. They need you to be curious and clear, to set limits, and to be flexible. It’s an in-between time for everyone. (192)

Chapter 6 | Teens, Tech, Temptation, and Trouble: Acting Out on the Big (and Little) Screen

My generation is so comfortable at communicating electronically, but we are terrible at actual relationships. – Charlotte, 18

Avatars, Angst, Ambition, and Adventure

To a teen, tech is the perfect accessory. it’s the do-it-all tool, the Swiss Army knife for modern adolescence. It’s key selling features: | Tech plays to the powerful adolescent drive for independence. (196)

Finally, tech plays to the natural sexual drives and desires of adolescence but deletes the pause between impulse and action. … There is no app for emotional intimacy, no digital shortcut to the deep, rich knowing of another human being — or of ourselves in that context. (197)

Evolutionarily speaking, it has always been the adolescents’ job to joint the dominant culture, so their rush for the border should come as no surprise. (198)

Texting Pushes the Mute button on Emotional Nuance

Psychologically, texting often promotes a pseudointimacy that easily becomes a stand-in for the real thing. … The more children begin to use texting at an earlier age rather than speaking or reading, the more a printed word replaces listening to the human voice and absorbing and understanding nonverbal social cues such as facial expression and body language. (200)

Text is easier because you can think your thought, you can think it through more and you can plan out what you want to say, and you don’t have to deal with their face or see their reaction; you just hear what their reaction is. – Laine

Text excuses you from dealing with the human complexity of communication. (203)

Facebook or Fakebook: Image, Identity, and the Empty Obsession with Presentation

Nasty Is the New Norm and Porn Is the New Nasty

#Sex#, #Sexts#, and #Intimacy#

But here is the catch, if only in terms of risks: unlike handing off a snapshot, which of course could possibly be passed around or replicated, the medium carrying the message serves many functions, and the capacity for someone to use it to expose any photo to the world makes the trust required much greater and the risk that much higher. (213)

Known or unknown, the wounded psyche is a tinderbox of trouble, and when factors come together just so, the match is lit. (214)

In the adolescent flux of identity and sexuality, disturbing media and online content coupled with the dynamics of the impersonal interpersonal communication technologies, says Jackson Katz, “are literally reshaping the nature of social interaction and the nature of what it means, if you will, to be a boy or a girl, or in a relationships … In the absence of thoughtful discussions about sexuality, and thoughtful, information-focused education, the pornography industry rushes in and introduces our sons to an incredibly brutal form of men’s sexuality.” (221)

Garage Band Boys: Playing the Fame Game Hits Cyber Sour Note

…it is hardly surprising that fame is the number one value of adolescence and young adults. Tech has made the adolescent dream of fame a distinct possibility, grandiosity a reality. (221)

Chapter 7 | Scary, Crazy, and Clueless: Teens Talk about How to Be a Go-To Parent in the Digital Age

When you’re a little kid you can kinda tell your parents anything and you don’t worry about it. But then you hear what they say about your friend or some other kid and it’s so scary — and then you think, hmm, do I really want to tell them stuff now? I mean in the big picture, you have you whole life with your parents and if you tell them you made a mistake it can really ruin things. I don’t want them to look at me badly for the rest of my life. – Jed, 15

Trust, after all, is at the heart of the child-parent relationship from the earliest back-and-forth communication through which infant and parent learn to “read” one another. | Our children never outgrow their need to trust us. And they never stop trying to read us. (226)

In many ways, tech hasn’t changed a thing about that bedrock feature of the parent-child relationship. But tech has heightened the need for it. (227)

What we say and how we say it matters to our children. (228)

…have an amnesty policy..: if you’re in trouble and you call us first you’re not going to get in as much trouble as you will if you wait. (229)

The deal also includes this, though: as the parent, you can’t ask the details — who supplied the alcohol, who bought the weed — the most important thing is your child’s safety in the moment and they’re calling you because they feel unsafe and as a parent you have to hold up your side of the bargain. (229)

My dad throughout my whole life has stressed honesty more than anything else. he’s like, “Honestly, I don’t care what you did, as long as you’re honest with me and tell the truth,” because he doesn’t really value anything more than he values trust between us. So going to him was just kind of like instinct, I guess.

Isn’t that the parent we all want to be? We try. But then there we are: scary, crazy, clueless. And the question we so often ask our kids confronts us: what were we thinking? The problem is that we were most likely thinking in a panic, reactively, with emotions high and adrenaline surging. Nothing is closer to our hearts and hair-trigger reflexes than our children’s safety, their health, education, and future as adults with careers and families of their own. Nothing makes us feel more vulnerable than when our children are struggling. (229)

In fundamental ways, the landscape is vastly different from what it was when we were growing up. (230)

First, we have always understood certain aspects of childhood development as givens:…

Second, some behaviors that once were generally viewed as “bad” or dangerous are now considered the norm.

Third, tech has diminished parental control and parental influence.

Finally, economic uncertainty makes parents deeply anxious about their children’s future career and life success. (231)

Our desire to be connected to our children, coupled with chronic anxiety about the world they are joining, can lead us to behave in ways that make us unapproachable and useless to them, especially in a crisis. … We want to be the first responder when our children need help. And just as with a paramedic or ER team, the first moves you make and the quality of your response have a critical effect on outcomes. (231)

So here is what our children want us to know about the things we do that keep them from coming to us when most wish they would. Just try these on for size, see what fits and what doesn’t fit. Know that everybody has done many of these things many times. I have. So has the parent you admire the most. The point is not about getting it right all the time. It is just about doing better. When we can learn from one another’s mistakes and listen to the teachers and adults who care about our kids, we all benefit. (232)

  • “Do What I Say, Not What I Do” Tells Your Kids They Cant’ Trust You


You establish your safety and approachability as a parent not just by how you respond to your own children, but by how generously or judgmentally you talk about other children, especially if they are in trouble. (234)

Scary, Crazy, Clueless: The Three Faces of Reactivity

What feels scary to kids is when parents feel too intense, too judgmental, too rigid, too harsh — when there is a big disconnect between what the child is feeling and the parent’s assumption about what the child is feeling. (235)

When parents get so invested in their own reaction or opinion or what must happen next to a child, the child hears that the parent is unstoppable, determined to see things just one way, and determined to understand — or misunderstand — the situation in that way only, no matter what other factors may be relevant. The parent is on a rampage. Extreme judgments or catastrophic predictions paint you as always attuned to life’s catastrophic potential… (236)

“Crazy” parents amplify the emotion or the drama in any given situation. (236)

Meanwhile the child loses out on one of the most important lessons in relationship with authority, learning how to talk when you feel something’s been unfair or there’s been a misunderstanding, or you feel hurt or confused. 9237)

Children describe clueless parents in somewhat pitiable terms: naive or uninformed, inept, ineffectual. A clueless parent isn’t attuned to the context of a situation or certain important nuances, is gullible, or makes awkward blunders. (237)

These three labels — Scary, Crazy, Clueless — are useful as a way of seeing ourselves through our children’s eyes. But in a moment of conflict or crisis, they become three roars of a single beast: reactivity. And we all know what that sounds and feels like. (240)

Scary in the Worst Way: When Adults Bully Children

The Garage Band Boys: Turning a Sour Tune into a Teachable Moment

The opposite of scary is approachable. The opposite of crazy anxious is calm. The opposite of clueless is informed and realistic. And the opposite of reactive is responsive. (250)

children are not their mistakes, and…they shouldn’t label children as their mistakes. (251)

Speaking of sex: Taking the “Scary, Crazy, and Clueless” Out of It

Choosing the Parent You Want to Be: Approachable, Calm, Informed, Realistic

When our children are young, it’s possible to dream that our current closeness will never change, that we’ll always be the lap they climb into when upset, at least metaphorically. That is not a guarantee. We have to cultivate that relationship over time and in the everyday moments that establish patterns and expectations of trust, honesty, and closeness. (258)

The sooner we understand that they will make their own choices, or will have regrettable experiences, the sooner we can turn to finding ways to be helpful — open, calm, and approachable. | Given the world they are growing up in and the culture that they are destined to join, it is all the more important that our children be able to turn to us for advice, let us into their world to see what they are truly doing, and tell us the truth when they are in trouble. For them to be able to turn to us isn’t just a question of whether we allow it or expect it; they must first feel they can do so safely. Watch what you say. Don’t add to the drama. Practice, practice, practice. (259)

Chapter 8 | The Sustainable Family: Turning Tech into an Ally for Closeness, Creativity, and Community

Facebook replacing face time. iChat replacing us-chat. There is no longer any real generational divide in this regard. Digital natives or immigrants, we all love our screens and digital devices. So how do we embrace the interface without losing ourselves in the matrix? (261)

Sustainability has been described as “the ability of an ecosystem to hold, endure, or bear the weight of a wide variety of social and natural forces which could compromise its healthy operation.” (261)

Parenting can feel like endless weeding… (261)

A family is an ecosystem. Hardy. Diverse. Resilient. Fragile. Whatever the relationship dynamics, family members create and share an environment that is uniquely theirs; they are interconnected. (261)

The good news is that we have everything we need to create sustainable families — loving, thriving human ecosystems. I say this having seen on an intimate scale the ways families fail or the way a family misses the mark with this child or that one. I am endlessly moved by the way a family can adapt and grow and flourish. families respond to loving attention. They are the original renewable resource. It is never too late to turn a nurturing eye to family and in the process to update attitudes or patterns that aren’t working as you’d like. (262)

The sustainable family is a family that has created a fabric of connectivity that is strong and many layered. it can deal with a crisis with elasticity, without unraveling. It is flexible, not brittle, and has high tensile strength forged by spending time together. It values family life above life online and has the wherewithal to understand that you cannot create a sustainable quality of family togetherness unless you make it a priority. In sustainable families, tech can be used in a wide range of excellent ways, but the primacy of being mindful, attuned to each other with all your senses, and fully present for one another without a media interface is the foundation or the humanizing connection. Sustainability is about cherishing the finite time you have with your children to create your family, not taking for granted that you or they will always be there, open and willing to be with you. This means stepping up to manage the media and tech, remove it when necessary, not to exploit it or be exploited by it. It means not to numb out or avoid family engagement. At the heart, a sustainable family is child centered in ways that provide the most loving, supportive, and uniquely human context for healthy growth and development. (262-263)

It is not conceivable that our culture will forget that it needs children. But it is halfway toward forgetting that children need childhood. Those who insist on remembering shall perform a noble service. – Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood

This requires diligence on many fronts, he wrote, including teaching children delayed gratification, responsible sexuality, self-restraint and manners, civil behavior, language, and literacy. “But most rebellious of all is the attempt to control the media’s access to one’s children,” he wrote more than thirty years ago. This call to action is only more urgent today as we seek to manage our children’s access to ever more pervasive and sophisticated media. (263)

What values do I want my children to end up with as adults, and am I living the lifestyle and teaching the lessons that embody these values? (263)

Maritn Seligman,…author of Flourish identifies five elements that research has concluded are highly significant contributors to well-being. They are: positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. When you think about these five elements int he context of our relationship with technology — the dopamine hits, the fun of social networking or screen games that reward growing competence, and the instant gratification of getting what you want online…it would explain why all that connectivity can feel like well-being. And why, in moderation, it can be. It also may explain, however, why excessive texting, Facebooking, and other tech connectivity that replaces authentic, embodied human connection erodes the basic foundation for well-being. (264)

Plugged In/Unplugged: A Story of Two Families

1 The sustainable family recognizes the pervasive presence of tech in today’s world and develops a family philosophy about using it that reflects and supports the family’s values and well-being. The family has its own ways — tech and nontech — of hanging out, messing around, and geeking out. (269)

The most vibrant, healthful relationship with tech begins with none. Ultimately, tech works best in the context of the safe, secure, loving environment we first create for our children face-to-face, unplugged and tech-free. (269)

Each family needs to develop its own house rules, an actual contract, about the use of tech…

  • acknowledge different realities and value systems outside your home and family without demonizing others
  • explain why you are making the choices you are for your family, without demonizing others,
  • practice responding to your child without showing yourself to be scary, crazy, or clueless

2 The sustainable family encourages play and plays together. (273)

Creativity comes in infinite operating systems in a child’s mind. (276)

3 A sustainable family nourishes meaningful connection and thoughtful conversation that shares feelings, values, expectations, and optimism. (278)

Two kinds of conversation with your child have particular potential for great or dismal outcomes. One is the much-vaunted dinnertime conversation. The other is the conflict resolution conversation, which is part and parcel of life with children at any age. To borrow from Benjamin Franklin’s observation about death and taxes as the only sure things in life, I would add that the only things certain in family life are eating and arguing — sometimes at the same time. (279)

4 In the sustainable family, members understand the uniqueness of each person, encourage independence and individual interests, and foster their independence in the context of family. (282)

5 A sustainable family has built-in mechanisms for healthy disagreement. Parents set limits, act thoughtfully with parental authority, and do the hard parenting work of demonstrating accountability, authority, openness, transparency, and not just trust me but here’s why. (285)

  • Corrective (parental boss): Are you on Facebook?! Shouldn’t you be doing your homework?
  • Connective (inner boss): You were going to write that paper before the weekend so you’d have a good weekend. Are you gonna stand by that decision you made? Or Are you following through on the commitment you made to yourself to do your homework?

6 The sustainable family has values, wisdom, a link to past and future, and some common language that they share with family and friends. (288)

Sustainability is not a static thing; it’s not a measure or a core you can achieve and bask in your accomplishment. It is a practice. (291)

7 Sustainable families provide experiences off-line in which children can experience and cultivate an inner life, solitude, and connection to nature. (291)

Sustainability is about pace and sequence — for our children, it’s about the pace and sequence of growing up. (294)

— VIA —

Excellent. Truly.

For parents, I would recommend getting this book at the very beginning of your parenting, and then don’t feel daunted that you have to read all 300 pages in one chunk. Grab the introduction, and get thinking. Then as your child grows older, pull the book off the shelf again, and read through those chapters that correspond.

Theologically, I see the “incarnation” exemplified in areas such as on page 62, Steiner-Adair uses the phrase “embodied cognition.” It is intriguing to see that some concepts never change.

Perhaps my one nit-pick is that on page 89, she asks “Does it really matter whether snuggle time and reading to your young child involves a screen or a printed page?” According to McLuhan, the answer is absolutely YES! She alludes much to this reality through her writing, but doesn’t delve deep into the anthropological implications of technological adoption. But that’s why this is a parenting book and not a technological theory book. I can’t quibble much about this.