By Judith D. Botvin
We have a big challenge for parents, grandparents & grandkids. For this grandmother, reading The Big Disconnect – Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age by Catherine Steiner-Adair, EdD with Teresa H. Barker, was a frightening confirmation of some of my personal observations. Steiner-Adair, a child psychologist and family therapist, summarizes her most salient point in her Introduction: parenting in the digital age challenges us in ways the human brain and heart can hardly process fast enough. I raced through the book, looking for solutions to the problems it raises. (As I read, I summarized each chapter and sent my synopses to my married daughters, whose busy lives preclude their reading it themselves.)
The author is not a technophobe. Repeatedly, she acknowledges the positive uses of technology, while at the same time warning the reader of its dangers. For example, she says, “Technology is habit-forming. The stimulation is ‘like chocolate to the brain.’ … it takes us away from the present, and those around us.” She continues, “We persist in its use despite medical studies that show behavioral, neurological and developmental changes wrought by our devices.”
And, she observes, the price of this is high. “In our enthusiasm to give our kids every advantage, we may be putting them in harm’s way.” For example, the more time we spend “on-screen,” the less time we have for face-to-face contact. The book is filled with stories demonstrating the importance that personal contact has for mental development.
The problems with what one theorist calls “the convergence culture,” are familiar to most of us. We know that e-mails can be unclear in tone; the meaning of “friend” has changed; that we have lost basic courtesies and relinquished our privacy. We may agree that the screen cannot adequately convey emotion and that we record instant thoughts without considering their effects. And despite our awareness of this and more, parents spend more and more time using “tech,” which only encourages our children to do the same.
The author is optimistic, however, and she summarizes her point this way: ”No matter how tech shapes and changes the world around us, one thing remains universal and unchanged: the connection that begins in the family shapes a child’s brain, mind, body and soul in uniquely human ways that tech cannot replace…this book is written in the spirit of the teachable moment so that with fresh eyes we can… nourish our families and protect and prepare our children for a meaningful life in the digital age….”
If you find these points as compelling as I did, you will want to spend some time exploring this book. While some observations are universal, others are surprisingly unique. Like me, I think you will want to share these ideas with your children and grandchildren. Don’t be surprised if they aren’t as receptive as you’d like; the problems posed can be daunting. Take your time to read and digest the book yourself. Hopefully, each of us will develop our own ways to deal with the challenge it presents.
Judith (Kaminsky) Botvin is back in her native city, Denver, after having spent 35 years living and raising her family in Reading, Pennsylvania. There, she worked in communications for Metropolitan Edison, Co. (now First Energy), serving in that role through the Three Mile Island episode
For several years, she was president of Berks Woman’s Network, where professional women enjoyed mutual support and friendship. “In the 1970’s, ‘80’s and 90’s, working women needed to support each other in navigating the business world,” she says. “In the same way, today’s grandparents can maximize their experience by connecting with one another. I always thought there should be a publication for this. When I heard about Grand, I immediately wanted to be a part of it.”
After taking early retirement and moving to Denver in 1997, she (finally) became a grandparent. “My three daughters were single when we moved; soon after, they all married and started having children. Happily, two daughters have settled in Denver, with their three children. Our third daughter and her family are living in Jakarta, Indonesia, where we have already visited them.”