Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Distracted and Disconnected


Distracted and Disconnected

Hailey Innes, LPC-Intern

Supervised by Katrena Hart, LPC-S


Let’s face it, our society would be lost without technology. It’s everywhere--from our phones, to our tablets and computers, to the internet you used to access this blog. We use it for business and pleasure, to help organize our lives, to stay connected with others, to enhance learning and education, and to keep us safe. It’s a pervasive and valuable aspect of our daily lives. But how far is too far when it comes to our use of technology?  And what happens to children growing up in a world of smartphone and tablets that keep us constantly distracted and disconnected?

The other day, while roaming the aisles of target, I spotted a precious little girl sitting in the front of her mother’s shopping cart. As her eyes darted around the toy section, she looked joyfully overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds target has to offer. “Mommy, look—it’s Dora,” she exclaimed as she pointed to the shelves. Followed by, “Ohhhh, look Mom! A pony!!” I couldn’t help but smile at her excitement, it was contagious. My smile disappeared and my heart sank when I glanced up to find her mother’s head buried in her cell phone. Continued attempts to gain her mother’s attention, or elicit any response, went completely unacknowledged. I was saddened and frustrated for this little girl. My sadness turned to anger as I saw similar situations throughout the store. Whether it’s a parent at target, families at restaurants, or anywhere in between, our eyes and attention remain glued to our devices—at what cost?

Children need genuine, face-to-face interaction with parents and caregivers. It is through this connection that children develop a sense of self, learn to manage emotions, cultivate empathy and social skills, and gain a sense of worth and belonging. It is also vital for forming a secure attachment with parents or caregivers—which has lifelong implications.

Children lacking attention, interaction, and responsiveness from parents are more likely to develop low self-esteem, experience feelings of worthlessness, and suffer from separation anxiety.  Behavior such as acting out, throwing temper tantrums, and resisting discipline often present as attempts to gain acknowledgement and attention. Parents often focus on the misbehavior itself, however, identifying and addressing the underlying motivation behind misbehavior is far more important. Attention seeking behavior often develops from a lack of consistent attention when a child is not acting out.

Children are far more perceptive than most adults realize. They watch what we do, hear things we say (yes, even if we think we are being cryptic), and imitate our actions. Even if we respond to their questions, or nod as though we are listening, they can see and feel authentic presence versus distracted presence. Breaking eye-contact to check emails, or respond to a texts while conversing with them is indirectly saying “you are not as important, interesting or worthwhile as what I’m looking at on my phone.” It also suggests it is acceptable to value devices and disengagement over time and connection with others. I’ve heard countless parents complain about the amount of time their kids spend on their phone or playing video games, but how can we insist children limit their time and energy devoted to technology if we have no boundaries with our own use?

While I feel strongly about this topic, I’m still realistic. I understand that calls must be answered, emails read, and work accomplished. I am not suggesting that you rid yourself of all phones, tablets, and computers. I am, however, encouraging parents to be mindful of our time spent distracted by technology and our society’s tendency to multitask. Most importantly, when it comes to providing time and attention to children, quality trumps quantity. If you aren’t sure where to start, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make mealtime a technology free zone. That means silencing all ringtones, placing phones out of sight, and no leaving the table to check text messages, emails etc. during this time—30 or 45 minutes isn’t too much to ask.

  2. Set aside 10-15 minutes a day for unplugged, and undivided (no multitasking) time/attention with kids. For example: sit down with them for breakfast and ask what they are looking forward to at school that day, use time spent driving to school or activities to connect and engage, reading/lying with them before bedtime etc.

  3. Plan family game nights with board games, cards or something else unrelated to electronics.

Make it fun, ask your children how they would like to spend time with you, and most importantly, just show up.

So get off your phone, turn off your computer, and enjoy the present moment with your children. They won’t be riding in shopping carts, pointing joyfully at Dora the Explorer forever—go ahead, look!



Bridging Harts Institute & Psychotherapy
203 S. Alma St. Suite #300
Allen, TX 75013
T: (972) 562 5002
Email: info@bridgingharts.com


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