The Age of Distraction
I have a conflicted relationship with technology. It creates community and dispenses information like never before. The problem is that human beings are wired to see the bright and shiny - making the medium that brings us most together, the one that potentially pulls us apart.
This got me thinking. Working off the addiction model, I wondered about social media’s influence on youth. With just a click, a teen can receive life-saving validation or total rejection. And thanks to neurobiology, we now know templates in the brain can be distorted and hardwired at an early age.
Teens have always been vulnerable to the demands of peer pressure, but we are now seeing elementary and even preschool children suffering from intense anxiety and affective disorders. They’re not coping with the stressors of life like they did in the past.
For starters, we live in an age of distraction. It’s not uncommon for someone to text, tweet and chat the day away, while updating their blog and commenting on others. This is in addition to a full work week and attending to the other dozens of tasks of daily living. Throw in a kid or two and you’ve got the perfect storm for living in a state of divided attention.
Pick up any parenting book on attachment and you’ll come across the phrase “floor time.” To build strong relationships with children, parents are encouraged to spend 20 minutes a day in child-directed play. This is an uninterrupted time to engage in your kid’s life. The only criterion is being present.
A growing body of research suggests technology is hijacking our attention and compromising our ability to connect. Kids are savvy consumers. They’re noting every hollow “uh-huh” and “that’s nice honey” that attempts to pass for engagement. Keep in mind; these are well-meaning and devoted parents.
Still, it begs the question, how does chronic distraction affect attachment? I believe we’re seeing the answer in the number of drugs being prescribed and the massive amounts of self-medication occurring through sex, drugs, shopping, cutting, and, yes, even tweeting.
When a child senses that a parent is partially available, it creates an internal conflict. Am I safe? Am I good-enough? Does mommy love her phone more than me? Kids are naturally self-absorbed and will assume fault when in doubt. Parents can certainly skip a beat occasionally and not miss a tune. Periodic disruption is expected. The keyword here is occasionally.
A big part of parenting is learning how to self-regulate. Kids “borrow” another’s ability to soothe until they have the ego strength to do it themselves. When parents remain grounded, calm and focused they’re modeling emotional regulation. Parents who turn to technology to deal with feeling overwhelmed, lonely or bored are teaching their kids the same.
One of the best gifts to give a child is loving presence. Being heard reminds us how much we matter. So when a parent turns off the phone, pushes away from the computer and turns toward their child, she’s letting him know he’s important. If this sounds familiar, be kind to yourself. Parenting is hard work. Just remember that attention isn’t a reward for good behavior, it’s a lifeline.