by Sean Macken

Tuesday evening, Coast Episcopal School hosted a talk on the negative impacts of technology on family dynamics and the social and emotional intelligence development of Children.

Clinical Psychologist, School Consultant and Award-winning Author, Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair used her new book “The Big Disconnect: protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” to discuss multiple issues about technology and the damage over-exposure can have on children of all ages – even into adulthood.

It would have been easy to imagine the center point of the talk would be on the publicity of information and the risk that digital devices have on our children, but Dr. Stein-Adair spent equal time covering the impacts on children with technology; such as smartphones, laptops and tablets by parents. Interviews with children as old as 28 years old described the disappointment and anger felt when their parents would stop a conversation for answering a call. This research indicated children feel their parents’ valued work from any call or text message as a higher priority. 

In one interview, a 28 year-old spoke of the frustration he sensed after his mother asked perfunctory questions on “how things were going” or “are you seeing anyone,” she would immediately jump on the next call or text.

Dr. Steiner-Adair conveyed the emotional impacts a young girl experienced when her father would not help her with a new word. The father and daughter relished in their weekly exercise of her learning to spell and understand 20 words. After hearing classmates use a word on the playground, she approached her father after he came home from work to ask about this word. However, the father brushed her off due to being on the phone. Frustrated, the girl did what all of us would do – she “Googled” it. After entering the word “pornography” the young girl was inundated with graphic and violent images and text. This traumatized the young girl requiring therapy.

Consequently, Dr. Steiner-Adair implored parents that they must put filters on all devices their children had access to so they cannot access sites where they could be targeted or exposed to subjects the parents would rather cover with their children. In fact, computers should be removed from their kids’ bedrooms and parents should be aware of all texts and emails their children received. And young children should not be giving full loaded smartphones or tablets. The parents should not bow to their friends having those devices.

Focusing on the social and emotional intelligence aspect of her book, Dr. Steiner-Adair raised two scenarios. First, she said it was imperative parents read to their children from books and not tablets. When reading from a tablet, a person’s voice goes monotone and children cannot feel inflections in tone or emotions conveyed by their parents and it impacts a child’s vocabulary development. More importantly, story time was critical to parents bonding with their children and providing them a sense of love and security.

For child development, Dr. Steiner-Adair, indicated it was critical for children to play outside and play “dress-up.” Dress-up in particular was crucial to building a child’s imagination and ability to work out issues that can’t be replicated by online games.

The 90-minute plus talk wrapped up with the doctor imploring parents to create a Family Media Access contract to be signed by parents and their children.  All family members need to outline times devices will be used, where they will be used and content children were allowed to access – to include games.