Everything You Wanted To Know About Tech And Your Kids But Were Afraid To Read (Or Ask)

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The world is awash in great parenting advice, most of which is bound up in books you’ll never read because you’re too busy parenting. So, use our Crib Notes to get the short, short version of the latest, greatest books you keep hearing about. First up, clinical psychologist and Harvard Medical School instructor Catherine Steiner-Adair’s The Big Disconnect, a book the Wall Street Journal called a “riveting piece of journalism disguised as a self-help tome” when recently naming it a top non-fiction pick. The book exhaustively examines how tech disrupts the parent/child relationship, and offers ideas on effective parenting in the digital age.

Here are the main takeaways and most actionable advice from The Big Disconnect:

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Kids’ Brains Are Malleable And Particularly Susceptible To Technology

Real world interactions simulated by tech create less complex neural pathways in a developing brain. It takes the brain’s prefrontal cortex 25 years to fully develop — The part of the brain responsible for our executive functions – like understanding the consequences of our actions – is still forming while a child’s relationship to technology forms.

We Don’t Fully Understand How The Brain Develops In Response To Tech
The increased speed and decreased depth of real-world interactions simulated by tech – whether its “reading” a social network feed or “talking” via text message – creates less complex neural pathways than those created by analog equivalents. One measured result is a deficiency of empathy (unless “LOLs” count as empathy).

What You Can Do With This
There are so many unknowns about how technology affects kids, it can be intimidating. Steiner-Adair cites Martin Seligman’s 5 contributors to well being – positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and accomplishment – as starting points for how to engage with your kids’ relationship with tech.

Birth To Age 5: You Have 5 Years To Establish Your Kid’s Brain Blueprint And Every Day Counts

The faces we adopt when engaging with our phones, tablets or computers look the same to a baby as the face of a caregiver suffering from depression.Infants begin processing visual and audio stimulus as soon as they’re born — When parents repeat the sounds and movements their infants make, it initiates the baby’s capacity for communication and spatial orientation. They retain these experiences – research proves infants can pick their parents’ faces out of a crowd and tell when they’re hearing their mother’s voice through a speaker versus in the room.

Studies Show Infants Are Upset By “Flat” Or “Emotionless” Faces
The faces we adopt when engaging with our phones, tablets or computers look the same to a baby as the face of a caregiver suffering from depression. Babies need to associate the parents’ faces with reassurance before they can begin to self soothe.

Toddlers Need To Explore The World in 3 dimensions
Technology fails at recreating the sorts of tactile and exploratory contexts that toddlers use to understand the idea of physical boundaries and discovery. Turns out, Dora doesn’t actually teach them how to explore.

Toddlers Experience An Explosion Of Creative Capacity
Often called “the magic years,” this is when monsters under the bed become real. Just as technology does a poor job of helping them identify physical boundaries, it is similarly deficient in helping them identify emotional or conceptual boundaries.

What You Can Do With This:
Kids need to see their parents as consistent and reliable sources of comfort and reassurance, as well as a facilitators of discovery. Technology can be a useful supplement toward the end of this stage – in video chats with grandparents, as a source of answers or occasional entertainment – but should be used alongside and not in place of parents. At least until it can effectively clone you.

Age 6 To Age 10: The Barriers You’ve Erected Between Your Kids And The World Are Constantly Breached By Technology

Studies show that mass media negatively impacts the self-esteem of minority children and white girls.Kids are influenced by people online and in media long before they interact with them — By 8, kids understand how they compare with others and have an “inner critic” assessing their choices. Today, the “others” aren’t just their peer group but also a barrage of personalities and messages from TV and the internet – everyone really is a critic, and most of them suck at it.

Self-Esteem Forms In Response To Infinite Input
Parents must actively and regularly help kids process all these signals, or risk handing their self-esteem over to the masses. Studies have shown that, among white boys and girls and black boys and girls, only the white boys felt better about themselves after watching popular TV shows.

Impulse Control And An Understanding Of Right And Wrong Are Compromised By Digital Communication With Their Peers
Kids learn how to be anonymous from the moment they begin communicating online. As they lack a fully-formed sense of self and have lots of reasons to be insecure, they’re poorly equipped to handle their own internet anonymity or that of others.

These Emotional Skills Are Powerful Predictors Of Future Success
More than GPA, test scores or where kids go to college, successful emotional development leads to better educational, career and relationship outcomes.

What You Can Do With This
Take responsibility for how your kids interact with tech. Be proactive about installing software, blockers and apps that allow you to control as much as possible what your kids see and when they see it. Establish clear expectations of their behavior online and with gadgets, and the understanding that no piece of technology is an inalienable right (until the Supreme Court gets stacked with pro-kid justices): You can revoke it or search it at any time.

Tweens To Teens: Once Kids Roam The Digital World Freely, You Can Guide But Not Control Them


The average American boy sees porn for the first time at 11 years old.Technology undermines a parent’s ability to set rules and hold their kids accountable — When kids regularly transgress their parents’ wishes without consequence, their impulse control suffers. The further into their teen years they are, the more dangerous a lack of impulse control becomes.

Pre-Teens Increasingly Exhibit Teen-Like Behavior
12 and 13 year old girls, in contrast to other youth demographics, report frequently negative behavior toward one another on social platforms. Meanwhile, the average American boy sees porn for the first time at 11, and it’s not just Playboy he found an alley. It’s a lot of porn.

Teenagers Are All Child Stars Now
The tendency for teenagers to live in soap operas of their own making is flattened of complexity, heightened by immediacy and broadcast in a way that’s impossible to control online.

What You Can Do With This
Mistakes are teachable moments and you are an island of calm and reason in the face of the internet’s 24-7 hysteria. Don’t shame your kids, no matter how bad their transgressions. Talk through what happened, how it happened and why it happened, and help establish a way forward to improve the outcome next time. And hold them accountable for all their actions – even the virtual ones.

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