Is technology today’s Trojan horse for families?

Carol Williams of Tri-County Christian Counseling Services. CONTRIBUTED
Carol Williams of Tri-County Christian Counseling Services. CONTRIBUTED

Clinical counselor discusses finding the balance.

Can parents raise creative and imaginative children in a screen-driven world?

Carol Williams of Tri-County Christian Counseling Services and Life Coaching and Consulting Associates in West Chester Twp. is passionate about exploring the impact technology is having on today’s youth.

“We are seeing in our practices and in our research relationships are becoming more and more disconnected and detached from each other. When we ask our clients to describe their family interactions, we hear that when home, everyone is either on the electronics while in the family room or everyone is in separate rooms on their computers,” she explained. “We also notice that when families are out eating, they are not talking to each other; rather everyone is on their smart phones or iPods.”

Williams believes that technology just might be this generation’s Trojan horse.

“The citizens of Troy had no idea what was hidden inside the horse, so they took the Trojan horse at face value,” she said.

Williams tells more about technology’s impact and strategies for achieving a healthy balance.

Q: Technology has become such an integrated part of modern life. What impact has this had?

A: Technology is much more than what we see on the surface. It is important that we are aware of what is "behind the scenes" in today's world of electronics.

The internet can become a psychological escape that distracts a user from real life problems or difficult situations. We are more connected digitally but more disconnected socially.

Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry and director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior, says, “Digital immigrants, those kids which were born after the invent of technology, also run the risk of becoming so immersed in the internet and other new technologies that they experience a social and emotional distancing between themselves and their families and spouses. … The pathways (in the brain) for human interaction and communication weaken as customary one-on-one people skills atrophy.”

Q: What impact does excessive use of technology have on the developing mind?

A: When people keep their brains busy with digital input, they forfeit downtime. Downtime is what the brain needs between learning tasks so that it can process and consolidate the information it is learning.

During downtime the brain is solving problems, reasoning, fighting infections, repairing damage and consolidating learning or memory, and it can only perform these functions if given downtime.

The changes that technology is bringing are so rapid that they are outstripping the human brain’s ability to adapt.

This digitally dependent generation is not able to take in a lot of information and get deep.

It is the “dumbing down” of our students, making it more difficult for them to problem solve, meditate, contemplate and even connect ideas together.

Studies of internet users have long shown that websites turn readers into “skimmers” and shallow thinkers (aka the “Google Brain”).

They aren’t reading books, which is changing their learning style. They have a high need for distraction. Generally speaking, (due to the preference of texting) the younger generation is becoming less and less able to spell or prepared to write in a professional manner.

Q: What are some statistics regarding the impact of technology use?

A: Our children are becoming more self-centered. Narcissism (i.e., self-centeredness) has increased — 70 percent of college students scored higher on narcissism than did the average student 30 years ago.

Our kids care less about others: Empathy (the ability to step into the shoes of another) has decreased by 40 percent from just 10 years ago.

By the time our children reach middle school, they spend more time with media than with their parents or teachers.

According to the 2011 Barna family report, many of us are spending as much as eight hours a day in the digital world, children spend only 2¼ hours with their parents, and media is being called “the other parent.”

Smartphones have become a combination of pacifier, security blanket and babysitter. Many teenagers reported that they often sit together as a family in their family room, but hardly speak to each other because they are engaged elsewhere on their cell phones.

Q: How can families find the right balance?

A: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following screen limits for children:

Children ages 0-2: No screen time. Babies need all five senses to develop at this stage, and the digital screen only develops two of these senses, namely seeing and hearing.

Children ages 3-5: One hour per day. This is the age of make-believe. They have no logic at this age, so they need to spend playtime with other children.

Children ages 6-12: No more than 90 minutes per day.

Teenagers 13-19: Two hours a day.

Most 8-18 year olds spend seven to eight hours a day looking at their screens.

Q: What are some strategies families can implement?

A: If your children complain they are bored, help them remedy their boredom by playing an outdoor game with them. Children need actual physical time with their parents.

Activities that require hand-eye coordination, like crafts or model building, can also be helpful. It keeps your child focused, as do puzzles and games like chess, Scrabble and Boggle.

Allow your children to help you in the kitchen.

Do much more listening than talking.

Since physical movement stimulates the brain by increasing blood circulation and stimulating our energy hormones, don’t let your children spend long periods of time just sitting, even if it is reading a book.

Intermix inactivity with physical activity. For every minute spent being inactive, your family needs to spend a minute in activity.

Q: How can someone find out more?

A: We are looking for opportunities to present this material to organizations and churches in order to educate not only parents, teachers and other adults, but also to enlighten adolescents to both the positive and negative impact of electronics on our lives.

For more information or to contact us (at Life Coaching and Consulting Associates), visit www.lifecca.com or email us at info@lifecca.com.

Contact this contributing writer at lisa.knodel@gmail.com.

In Other News