Any time new technology is introduced, it is bound to have an impact on the way children interact with their parents, and vice versa. In the mid 2010’s it’s no longer enough to say we are “increasingly becoming” connected around the clock— we are connected around the clock. Emails can find us at any hour of the day, and a long distance phone call can be taken at a cafe as easily as it can be at home. Even on days when you can’t get into the office, you can get some degree of work done from the comfort of your living room.
In all of the examples above, we correctly assume that the hypothetical human in this situation is a fully matured adult. But how do children interpret this connectivity? In a recent piece for Psych Central, mental health counselor Kristi A. DeName, M.S.explores the impact that mobile technology has on young children.
She opens with a short anecdote concerning a six year old client of hers. When the child calls to their parents, they are often so engrossed in whatever they’re doing, that they sometimes fail to even acknowledge the child’s need. This, writes DeName, leaves her patient feeling sad.
Granted, some children are more disposed to feelings of anxiety and abandonment of others. But even for those who are not, there is a reason why our mobile usage could leave them feeling confused: they do not grasp that on the other side of your screen is someone or something that requires your mental output.
DeName notes that when a child sees two adults speaking, they learn that it is rude to interrupt for a non-urgent reason. Eventually, they realize that it’s rude to cut into a conversation between two people, period. However, to children seeing an adult on a tablet or smartphone is just like seeing them in front of a TV or computer. An adult is likely silent, while engaged in these activities, so to a child nothing of importance could possibly be going on.
Children grasp concepts like object permanence and social norms by their own understanding through multiple exposures. These things simply cannot be taught, as reading or math can be. Technological interactions are no different. At the end of the day, either the parent can become more aware of how they use their devices, or children can be forced to learn the hard way— at the risk of their own self-worth. The answer is obvious: parents should practice a mindful awareness.