When my oldest child was eight-years-old, she began asking for a cell phone. It seemed like a ‘fun’ idea to her, and definitely in keeping with the times and trends of our young. They use technology in their day-to-day lives to keep in touch with each other in a multiple of ways, including social media sites, cell phones, and texting.
Discussions about the state of youth today often lead to worries with regard to these technologies. Parents and professionals alike feel concern over what they view as preoccupations at best and actual addictions at worst. Family life can suffer, parental influence can take a back seat, grades can slip, and life directions can seem to fall by the wayside as teens hyper-focus on who did what and with whom, all available in real-time. A minute-by-minute unfolding is conveniently and irresistibly available through our present on-the-spot technologies. It must be the modern technology causing all the problems!
But then again, I think back to the more simple attachment technology that was available to me when I was young… the telephone. I recall the laments of adults, concerned that their children were talking with friends too much on the telephone, staying on the phone for all hours of the day and night if left unchecked. These were similar themes to those discussed today: different details, but similar themes.
Granted, the technology was a whole other ballgame: the telephones of my day were plugged into the wall so at least you always knew where your child was! But past that obvious advantage, what I also recall from my youth were structures and routines articulated and followed-through around the proper use of the telephone to ensure that we didn’t get carried away past our own good. An actual ‘culture’ existed around use of the phone to ensure that the telephone fit into the rest of our lives, and not that our lives try to work around use of the telephone!
Friends were not allowed to call after 7:30 pm on school nights as this was protected family and rest time; we were not to be using the phone during meal times and friends were promptly told to call back later or wait till the next school day; we had a maximum reasonable amount of time to talk on the phone and then we were expected to hang-up; we were always asked the identity of our caller; we weren’t allowed to use the telephones at school to check-in with friends and ultimately, we were encouraged to leave the phone alone and rest from constant interaction with peers. Parents also realized that placing a phone in a child’s room would be asking for potential trouble. Did we try to test and negotiate these structures? Sure. Did we whine, cry, and get terribly upset at times? Sure. But these structures were put in place to regulate our use of something that might carry us away.
These days, technology moves so fast that we have little time to develop a proper and healthy culture around how it should be used with children and teens. Unfortunately, we see many examples of children who are given complete carte blanche access to technology, with minimal supervision and without structures or routines. We have to remember that these necessary pieces help to create the ‘safe guards’ so that children don’t become preoccupied, addicted or involved in dangerous pursuits born out of sheer curiosity, mischief and immaturity. Our young are just that: young. They are still immature by their very nature, and most don’t yet have a well-defined sense of moderation: of what is healthy and good for them. Add to that: peer interaction can be overly stimulating and absolutely addicting. Our young need rest from a constant and anxious pursuit of always being ‘in the know’.
Consider this analogy: would you allow your child’s peer group to have 24/7 access to your child, always able to walk into the house at any time of the day or night, always able to interrupt family time, always able to disturb your child’s sleep, always able to distract your child during class time, and always able to excite, provoke or even antagonize at will? Intuitively you would know that this is unhealthy for your child and ultimately, you would move to protect your child from this constant buzzing state. This is a developmental place in their lives where rest from buzzing and busyness is absolutely necessary to de-stress, process, define themselves as separate from peers, and separate from complicated, stressful and often wounding peer dynamics.
When we have time away from a troubling situation, we have a chance to slow down, calm down and develop a better perspective of what is right and wrong, how we truly feel inside, and how to perhaps fix or right the situation. Negative peer group dynamics with children and adolescents [ie. teasing and bullying situations] can sometimes become so much more pronounced, inflamed and aggressive if able to persist without letup. Carte blanche use of attachment technology can absolutely contribute to things going from ‘bad to worse’ in these situations because there isn’t enough time and space occurring to allow those involved to stop, disengage, leave it alone, think for themselves, feel their way through, and perhaps come to a different understanding about what is happening.
Technology is a wonderful thing: it can be used in amazing ways to enhance life, but it can also create huge problems if structures are not defined around how it is going to fit into healthy development and family life, particularly with our young. My daughter was too young at the time to have any true need of a cell phone, but when we did decide to include this technology in her life, we did our best to unfold it within grounded structures and routines.
Was there testing and negotiation? Sure. Was there whining, crying and upset? Absolutely. But this is par for the course… even though technology changes at the speed of light, children don’t. They still have the same developmental needs, the same need of protected space to grow up, and the same need of adults who can handle upset because ultimately, it is the adults who must carry the big picture until the child is mature enough to see it.