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Hooked on gadgets

Have you noticed what is happening with our children? They are hooked on gadgets. Even two-year-old children are becoming fixated on having a gadget in their hands at all times. It seems as though courtesy and interpersonal dialogue are gradually being replaced with the swipe and touch of a gadget. Smartphones, iPads, Kindles, etc., have replaced face-to-face emotional bonding between human beings, so it seems. Yes, I am excited at how children and teenagers have become comfortable with gadgets, and have easily included them into their everyday living – they are making “friends” and learning new things. However, there is something wrong that is happening with this new trend and I am not sure how it will impact society in the next 50 years.

The use of gadgets for the playing of games, texting, messaging and social media seems to be so mesmerizing, that it is literally replacing common courtesies and time needed for face-to-face dialogue. Teenagers are more comfortable texting each other even when they are sitting in the same room or even side by side. I have had the privilege of traveling as a guest speaker to several Caribbean islands, the United States of America and Europe and I have seen the same behavior displayed by little children and teenagers. It seems to be universal.

I’ve been told about five-year-old children while being taken to school by their parents, walking from the house to the car playing with a gadget. On the drive to school, they continue playing with the gadget, never once looking up to enjoy the beauty of nature and the ride. Then, when they get to school, they do not look up and observe what is happening around them. Instead, they continue to play the game from the car door to the classroom, and will continue until the class begins (if allowed).

I have even seen children walking to their homes from the bus go directly through the front door of their homes with their heads down busy sliding and swiping their gadgets. They do not even say “good afternoon” or “hi”. Their hands and brains are always busy. There is no down time and that is what’s dangerous. While eating or watching TV, they are sliding and swiping. Once again, I am not against the use of these gadgets. I am seriously concerned about the seemingly never-ending use of them. Far too many young children and teenagers would remain on these gadgets from sunrise to sleep time. That is dangerous. It is not healthy for the brain, and learning and retention.

In the New York Times’ online business technology section (August 24, 2013), writer Matt Richtel states, “Scientists point to an unanticipated side effect of this kind of exposure: when people keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new ideas.”

This unstopped digital feeding of the brain prevents real learning. The brain needs downtime to learn.

Matt Ritchtel cites University of California’s research finding that states, “Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it had, solidify them and turn them into permanent, long-term memories,” said Loren Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university, where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believes that when the brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process”.

Don’t think that only little children and teenagers are guilty of this gadget overload. Parents are guilty, too. Far too many parents are so glued to their computers, iPads and smartphones, that they cannot even hear the calls from their children. If they do hear, the response would be: “Give me a minute. I am busy.” The truth is, many minutes would pass leaving the child discouraged.

Sherry Turkle, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Initiative on Technology and Self, discovered in her research the effects of parents choosing gadgets over their children. She has found that feelings of hurt, jealousy and competition are widespread. Over and over, 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 at meals, during pickup after either school or an extracurricular activity, and during sporting events.

Parents, you are doing harm to the relationship with your child by allowing gadgets to distract you from spending time with them or listening to them. I would not be surprised if in 50 years, psychologists develop a term like “digital alienation syndrome” to describe the emotional and intellectual crises developed, due to overuse of digital gadgets.

The following are a few things to help with what I call “digital alienation syndrome”:

• Parents, first turn off the gadget and spend time with your children. Pay attention to your child’s cry for help.

• Restrict the times your child will have a gadget with which to play. Remember that your child can learn more from playing outside in the yard for one hour than sitting for hours playing a game on a smartphone.

• Do not allow your child to have a gadget in his or her hand while talking to adults, in meetings, or while walking to a destination. Require them to turn it off and pay full attention.

• Select certain hours each week when there will be downtime when no gadget will be used, even the television.

• Make sure you know and approve what games or activities your child is using on the gadget.

 • Barrington Brennen is a marriage and family therapist. Send your questions or comments to question@soencouragement.org, call 242-327-1980 or visit www.soencouragement.org. 

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