The Big Disconnect

By: Neil Mufson
This summer our faculty and staff read The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood & Family Relationships in the Digital Age by psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair. I highly recommend that all parents read this book. A thorough consideration of what we must keep in mind given that children are influenced by technology and the media in powerful, pervasive ways, the book also provides a cogent review of children’s developmental needs at all ages. I feel that the book is significant enough that I will host a parent conversation about it on Tuesday, October 20 from 8:15-9:00. We have some copies in my office, or it is readily available through numerous booksellers.
Steiner-Adair makes the case that technology exerts its compelling grip from a very early age and that parents need to be aware of its influence on a child’s cognitive, social, and emotional development. But technology’s grasp isn’t just potentially problematic for children. Its allure is potentially problematic for adults and the relationships we most value. Steiner-Adair states, “While parents and children are enjoying swift and constant access to everything and everyone on the Internet, they are simultaneously struggling to maintain a meaningful personal connection with each other in their own homes.”

The real problem isn’t technology per se. It’s that we as adults have to understand — and control — its influence, first on ourselves and then, critically, on our children. After all, technology isn’t going to go away, nor would it be desirable to sacrifice all the benefits it makes possible. Yet Steiner-Adair points out that: “The message we communicate with our own preoccupation and responsiveness to calls, texts, and emails is: Everybody else matters more than you. Everything else matters more than you. Whatever the caller may say is more important than what you are telling me now. Meanwhile, a child is waiting to connect.”

Steiner-Adair’s book reveals that by not being mindful about technology use, adults put at risk the positive benefits that family life has traditionally provided. She sums it up this way:

“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 the 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… Parents who have long prided themselves 
on protecting, providing, and promoting a values-rich childhood for their children 
are feeling increasingly irrelevant in their children’s technology-driven lives. And 
they are right. Parents have lost their job —sometimes unwittingly abdicated it — 
at a time when they are most desperately needed by kids who are not only growing
up faster but growing into a world that no longer protects childhood.”

I hope you’ll join me on October 20.

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