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How technology can affect parent-child relationships

toddler on cell phone.jpg

One of my toddler daughter's favorite things to do is run around the house with a toy cell phone pressed up to her ear. It's a cute sight, but every time I see it I cringe a little. Is she trying to tell me something? Do I use my phone too much around her? Is she going to grow up with a distorted view of the importance of gadgets - smartphones, iPads, and the like - and think I prefer these things over her?

With this in mind I was interested in hearing about Alone Together, a recently published book that explores how technology is affecting relationships, including parent-child ones. Author Sherry Turkle, PhD, a professor in MIT's Program in Science, Technology, and Society, has gotten quite a bit of press, and she was most recently interviewed by U.S. News & World Report. A few of the questions/answers jumped out at me:

Your book surprised me because you really take parents to task for paying more attention to their technology than to their children. Did you expect that when you started the project?

I expected to be writing a book about teenagers driving their parents crazy. It turned out to be a much more compelling story of parents texting in the car, parents texting at dinner, and kids not knowing what to do. It was a very surprising finding. And very moving. The stories really were about children wanting parents’ full attention.

...You say there’s a biological explanation for why we love to multitask.

The reason multitasking feels so good [is that] our brains give us extra shots of dopamine [a brain neurotransmitter that affects mood] for every new task we multitask. We’re actually being rewarded chemically for every new task. But with every new task our performance is degrading. So if you’re emailing and putting contacts in the Rolodex, maybe it’s OK if your performance is a little degraded. Those things are degradable. But when we use these technologies of efficiency and bring them into our intimacies, we bring them into an area where we do ourselves damage.

So what should we parents do?

The mom who’s on the phone while pushing the kid on the swing has defeated the whole point of taking him to the playground. The whole point is to give each other full attention, and to create what I call sacred spaces around certain aspects of life.

Photo by abbybatchelder

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