The internet is affecting the way modern families interact with each other in negative ways. Experts are saying that there is a connection between a recent increase in childhood injury and parents being distracted by technology (Worthen). Additionally, young children have to compete with technology for their parent’s attention. Children are lacking the important interaction that should be taking place between parent and child. Consequently since children grow up seeing mom and dad glued to some form of technology, they learn to do the same and inevitably technology becomes the center of the family.
The family is together physically, but mentally and emotionally they are stretched thin between all of their gadgets. From the beginning of a child’s life they are likely to be surrounded by people using Smartphones with cameras, capturing their very first moments. Little do they know that devices like these are going to have a profound effect on their lives maybe sooner than later. According to the Centers for disease control and prevention nonfatal accidental injury rates for children ages zero to five had been steadily declining since the 1970’s, based on emergency room records. Suddenly from 2007 to 2010 these rates went up 12%.
Ironically Apple introduced its IPhone in mid-2007 and according to research firm Comscore 9 million Americans owned smart phones at that time. By the end of 2010 that number soared to 63 million. Factors, such as riskier behavior among children and an increase in parents taking children to emergency rooms have been mentioned by child injury experts as the cause for these increases (Worthen). Although the Wall Street Journal interviewed dozens of pediatricians, emergency-room physicians, academic researchers and law enforcement who all agree that using a smart phone while supervising a child could increase the risk of an accident (Worthen).
Students, at Temple University observed 30 parents and their children in public places and found that in nearly every case the parent stopped whatever they were doing with their child to use a device. “In one case a parent let go of her kids hand in the middle of a busy street in Philadelphia in order to check a text message,” says Psychologist Kathy Hirsh-Pasek (Worthen).
Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood called for a crackdown on distracted drivers and warned that the use of internet and handheld devices while driving can be a deadly distraction (Greenblatt). It’s a fairly small leap to suggest that supervisors are distracted,” says David Schwebel, a professor of psychology who specializes in injury prevention (Worthen). An example of a fatal accident in which the Florida Department of Children and Families concluded that the drowning of a two year old boy was a direct result of inadequate supervision. The evidence in the case proved that the boy’s mother was “tweeting” for five minutes before she pulled the boy out and called 911 (Worthen). This is an extreme case where the effect of internet social media left a family devastated by the loss of a child.
In Infancy a child’s activity level is low, leaving parents with plenty of time to text message and use the internet. As the child gets older and their brains develop they start to require more engaging activities, which should be provided by parents, but with dad busy checking emails and mom updating her Facebook account, children are lacking the one on one interaction with parents. In the past it was typical to hear about parents who were always nagging their kids to get off the computer or to stop texting, whereas lately the attention has also shifted to the parents (The Washington Post).
Many parents are coming forward and openly admitting that their kids are doing all kinds of things, such as banging on keyboards and throwing smartphones to get them to look up from their screens and participate in a family activity. For those who counter that social media and text messaging are helping them stay more in touch with their kids than ever before, experts stress that while these technologies can be a positive communication tool, there is simply no substitute for face-to-face contact.
Being able to look your child in the eye, to reflect what they’re thinking, and to really be there with them in a way you can’t be in a text, is incredibly valuable, because it teaches kids to reflect on their own mental state and shows they’re not alone in the world. Eye contact is the number-one sign that you’re relating to your kid,” says child psychiatrist, Patrick Kelley (The Washington Post). Engaged parenting is the key to early childhood learning and it seems evident that parents distracted by all the devices in the home may hinder the child’s development.
Kelley states that all the new technology and connectivity comes at a price of not paying much attention to those around us and suggests parents who are easily distracted by technology are modeling potentially harmful behavior for their impressionable children (The Washington Post). Richard Foremen a playwright describes the risk of turning into “pancake people” spread wide and thin, connecting with a vast network of information and social media that is so readily available (Carr).
There is a small window of time where parents have the opportunity to limit their use of technology and set a positive example for their children. How many parents have been seen focused on their mobile phones instead of paying attention to their kids? MIT professor Sherry Turkle finds that kids raised the same three examples of feeling hurt and not wanting to show it when their mom or dad would be on their devices instead of paying attention to them, one of these examples was being at sporting events (Scelfo).
Turkle explains that yes it is widely known that teens text all the time, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want their parents’ undivided attention when they are picked up from school or sitting at dinner (Dizikes). All the mental and emotional distance between family members has detrimental effects on family interaction. The Kaiser Family foundation did a study and found that children who use the internet the least do better in school and get along better with their families (Greenblatt).
The age of children who get cell phones is getting younger and younger. As of 2009, 20 percent of kids between six and 11 years old had a cell phone, according to a Mediamark survey (Conger). Now, Imagine a family where dad has his lap top, mom has her tablet, the kids have smartphones and there is a desktop computer in the home. It’s a given that the face to face interaction between this family will go down especially if there are no limits set on how often and how long internet devices are allowed to be used.