A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
New technology has radically changed the way we communicate with each other. Young people especially are relying on texting and social media for advice and friendship. A recent study found that children between the ages 8 and 18 are spending more than seven hours with electronic devices every day. Parents working from home are also spending more time on smartphones and tablets. In a new book, clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair argues that widespread use of electronic devices exposes kids to unhealthy values and puts children at risk at every developmental stage. She says technology has negative effects on empathy, attention and family relationships. Diane and her guest discuss the effects of technology on children and their families and what parents can do about it.
- Catherine Steiner-Adair clinical psychologist and instructor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” by Catherine Steiner-Adair. Copyright © 2013 Catherine Steiner-Adair. Reprinted with permission of Harper. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The living room inside a modern family home increasingly features mom, dad and kids all fixated on screens. Parents and children have traded in conversation and board games for smart phones, tablets and video games.
MS. DIANE REHMIn her new book, Harvard clinical psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair argues technology is putting children at risk in every stage of development and disrupting family relationships. Her new book is titled "The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age."
MS. DIANE REHMCatherine Steiner-Adair joins me in the studio. You're welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. It's good to meet you.
MS. CATHERINE STEINER-ADAIRThank you so much. It's delightful to be here.
REHMThank you. Talk about what is the big disconnect and why we should be so concerned.
STEINER-ADAIRThe big disconnect really is the paradox of the age. We are unbelievably connected to each other in ways we've never been able to be and yet the quality of our connection has led to an increase in loneliness, in face time, in speaking to one another, in being fully present with each other. All the human attributes that make us fully human in our connections to each other.
REHMYou're particularly concerned about children, their relationships with family.
STEINER-ADAIRI am. I interviewed little people, two, three, four and they would say, "Mommy, get off your stupid cell phone." Or when they would ask their parent at eight to take them to school and they'd interrupt their mom or their dad and say, "We have to go to school." "Stop, I'm catching up on email, this is important." "But we have to go."
STEINER-ADAIRAnd then they describe giving up, feeling sad, feeling bad because their parents like all of us, when we're hitting our to-do list on screen, the part of our brain that wants to accomplish something gets kind of cranky when we're interrupted.
REHMBut the other is also true, it seems to me, I heard a young man say here in the studio just the other day, his three year old is happily playing constantly with the screen. So you must be worried about it at that end as well.
STEINER-ADAIRI'm worried about it with infants because we know that the magnetic attraction that we all feel towards screens and games and apps and shopping and whatever, little babies can feel too.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd there's no doubt when you hand a child a smart phone because they're frustrated in the checkout line and it's so easy. What we are teaching kids in those moments is that the way you deal with frustration or being upset is to stimulate the brain not to calm the brain down.
STEINER-ADAIRSo we're not singing those same songs or playing those rhyming games, why we're having meltdowns at the supermarket. "I'm thinking of a word that rhymes with hat and the word is an animal." We're saying, here play Tap Tommy Cat in which a child taps the screen scratches the cat, the cat falls down and that's teaching the child a completely different way of handling the most simple frustrations in life.
REHMAnd of course in defense of parents they may be turning to that screen more or less instead of trying to talk with the child.
STEINER-ADAIRI am so sympathetic to this because it's irresistible and that's what's so hard. That is part of the big disconnect. It's so hard to think at that moment, don't give your child a phone because it's going to teach them to handle certain situations through technology.
REHMIt's interesting to me that a child advocacy group filed a complaint last week with the FTC over learning apps for babies. What kinds of learning apps and what was your reaction?
STEINER-ADAIRI think the work that Susan Linn is doing with a campaign for a commercial free childhood is fantastic. I absolutely support because young parents are so vulnerable. We all want the best for our child, we want the most educational advances we can give our children.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd we know that we are very vulnerable as new parents as well. So when something comes down the pike and says teach your baby to read at two, my gosh who wouldn't get that. And yet the reality is babies cannot read at two. It is a truly exceptional human being who could read at two.
STEINER-ADAIRThey can memorize at two, they can mimic at two but they can't read. So there's a lot of false advertising playing on the vulnerabilities of very busy parents, parents who are very worried in this day about the quality of education their kids are getting and doing a lot of false advertising.
REHMHave you seen these apps?
STEINER-ADAIRYes, I have seen some of these apps.
REHMDescribe one for me.
STEINER-ADAIRWell, they say, you know, we're going to teach you language or we're going to teach you pre-reading and what they do is basically they mimic the kind of word play games parents do. But the difference is that children do not learn language from apps.
STEINER-ADAIRThey learn language from people sitting with them, reading to them, cooing with them, speaking to them directly. We know enough, thank you to technology and its wonderful uses, to understand how kids really learn and they do not learn language the same way from hearing a book as being read in person.
REHMI gather that some of the motivation for writing this book came from your own experience with your son as he approached the teenage years?
STEINER-ADAIRYes, indeed. Even early teenage years.
STEINER-ADAIRWell, Daniel is actually 28 today, happy birthday, Daniel, if you're listening and he was one of those kids who rode just because of the age he was the whole new wave of technology coming into the home. And he is very talented in computer sciences and math and all those kinds of things.
STEINER-ADAIRSo he was a quick adapter and he loved it and we loved watching him conquer new level of games and having these fun relationships with his friends online but we did not love the conversations. "Dan, come to dinner. Dan, we're going to go on a family outing right now."
STEINER-ADAIRAnd I just had this real love-hate kind of relationship with computers entering my home because I felt sometimes thrilled for him and other times like this computer is eating my child.
STEINER-ADAIRThis computer is invading my family and my husband, Fred, and I would really try and struggle with where the right limits to set, how do we handle this and it was all so new. I look back and I see we made some real mistakes.
STEINER-ADAIRWell, I didn't understand, it took me really a while to understand the benefit of computer games and one of the things I didn't understand is that, particularly if you're quite good at them, you need to stay in the game for a long time to get to the level or to discover the mechanisms coding behind the game and how it really works.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd that's good stuff to learn as long as the content isn't too trashy. So we had first set time limits, a half hour, 45 minutes. Now, I would say to parents, you know, let your child play two hours on the weekend.
STEINER-ADAIRLet them build up a half hour a day and use it in one chunk of time. because they will actually get more out of the game and you also really have to understand each child's wiring about how they transition into a game and out of the game because it really varies child to child.
STEINER-ADAIRI think another mistake I made was I didn't know how to assess the impact of the content of a game like "Call to Duty." And I didn't know what was sort of my mommy worry, like, this is going to really affect my son and the values are so different from our family values.
REHMDescribe the game?
STEINER-ADAIRWell, the value, you know, in many of these games you're killing. I played a game recently with my 10 year old, my godson's 10 year old son, and we were in Afghanistan and we were shooting people up and there was blood on the screen and it was really exciting but it was also very realistic.
STEINER-ADAIRNow, I think for many kids they know this is a game. They know that this is something they do through technology but they don't have the skills at 10, 11 or 13 or 14 to deconstruct some of the political messaging, the gender messaging.
STEINER-ADAIRIt's the shoot them up, you know, approach to solving problems. So the values in computer games themselves many are, you know, they teach war, they teach dominance, they're very sexist, they have a political agenda. So kids don't know that and there's a hidden agenda in all games that parents really need to be thoughtful about.
REHMCatherine Steiner-Adair, she is a clinical psychologist. Her new book is titled "The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age." Do give us a call, 800-433-8850. You also began noticing a change in your clinical practice.
STEINER-ADAIRWell, what I started to see in my clinical practice sometimes some very funny things. People would come in and say they just had this horrible fight with a girlfriend or a spouse or partner and they would hand me the phone and it would say the word "sorry," and say, "What does it mean? What does it mean?," you know, and I was, like, well it could mean sorry, really sorry, sorry, sarcastic sorry.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd I started to see that when we place tone of voice with text we create such a disconnect in how we relate.
REHMThere's no understanding.
STEINER-ADAIRThere's no understanding and unfortunately that is how we are trending particularly kids today. They think it's too intense to call somebody to say, I'm sad.
REHMSo they send a text message or an email.
STEINER-ADAIRYes, and unfortunately when they're struggling it seems to be more superficial. So the days of calling a friend, when being a friend meant you call a friend and say, I'm sad.
REHMI'm sorry. "The Big Disconnect," that's the title of Catherine Steiner-Adair's new book. I see we have many callers. We'll try to get to you shortly. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. I can see many of our listeners have very strong opinions about this. Lisa in Indiana says, "If screen time is so bad for children and should be avoided, how will they ever adapt to adult jobs, many of which are 100 percent screen time. Isn't it more a question of how instead of whether they're using technology?"
STEINER-ADAIROf course it's a question of how instead of whether. This is the world we live in. But the question also is when and how do you developmentally scaffold the child's connection to technology in ways that are pro-social and developmentally, psychologically and neurologically beneficial to them? And just like we don't give kids the keys to the car at 16, even though, you know, we use public transportation and drive around often, you really want to pace and think very carefully about at what age you introduce your children to different kinds of technology.
REHMLuke write, "Things change. This sounds like the same old tired arguments about TV I heard all through my formative years. And TV did not prove to be the end of civilization. People who can't deal with change always say these kinds of things because they realize the world will be different from what they grew up with. I can picture the scribe who warned people about the dangers of Johannes Gutenberg."
STEINER-ADAIROf course things change and we are going to change with them. I'm just saying we should push pause and be thoughtful about how we adapt. Because we know that certain things with technology have negative effects on child development. And talking about a child at 8 is very different from talking about a child at 14 or 18 or an adult.
REHMWell, you're very concerned about children being adultified. Explain what you mean.
STEINER-ADAIRWell, I'm concerned about children being adultified in all kinds of ways. One of the things that technology has done, which is quite wonderful but also, like everything, it's about balance, it has a downside too, is that children today can connect to any source of information and anybody around the world. And the potential for that for creating a global community and for education and going online for primary sources is phenomenal. However, one of the things that I'm hearing about is kids connecting accidentally, not because they want to, into the adult world in ways that are very upsetting for them.
STEINER-ADAIRFor instance, a wonderful 12-year-old boy was doing his vocabulary homework and being a good student and thoughtful kid he was, quite seriously he thought, I'm going to Google search a word I've heard a lot. I actually don't really understand it. I kind of think I know what it means but I'm not sure. So he Googled pornography. And he came into a screen full of some very sadistic, frightening sexual activity. And like many young kids, he got frozen in the screen and then he proceeded to have a meltdown.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd then I get a call from a mom saying, I can't get this kid to sleep now. He's got these images in his head. What do I do? So we've lost the barrier that protects childhood when we leave our kids free to roam on the Worldwide Web, which we don't need to do. We can control their connection to media, if we're thoughtful about it, all the way through elementary school, pretty much in the early years of middle school. And after that, then we shift how we parent.
REHMWell, certainly parents do have that obligation to know and to watch and to be aware of what the kids are getting to. But aren't there certain blocks that parents can create so a child does not accidentally or otherwise get to that meltdown place?
STEINER-ADAIRThere are very good tools available for parents to try and control and the kids' access to technology. About 25 percent of parents don't do anything. They think their kids are all right. They think their kids are fine and they don't put anything in place. And they choose to have an outlook that's sort of relaxed and kids will be kids and they're okay. I would caution parents against that because, as I said, many good kids are getting into sort of bad spots or bad trouble completely innocently, not malevolently.
REHMHere's another email from Tom in Ohio. He says the damage of the technology is clear but there is an even bigger problem. Example, it is emergently clear that excess screen time contributes to attention deficit, yet screen time has increased in schools. And the children that suffer go on drugs for ADHD." Do you see a connection between screen time and the development of ADHD?
STEINER-ADAIRHere's -- the research is really rolling out behind the pace at which we're adapting, which is always dangerous. Like cigarettes. You know, we thought they were cool and neat and everybody started smoking. Now we look back and go, oh my goodness that was a mistake, quick adaptation without enough evidence about harm. What I do think is that screens are stimulating for everybody. And then depending on the kind of wiring you have, if you're already predisposed to an addictive personality or some people in your family have ADD or ADHD, you are really going to struggle more getting addicted to games, to gaming, to screens, to anything computer-based.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd for everybody, we are seeing -- and teachers certainly told me this and, you know, I interviewed 500 teachers in schools around the country, that kids don't have the same capacity to do deep thinking, deep play at five or six or seven. Deep play means playing, creating narrative, going with the flow, changing it, physically falling into it more. And what they see is kids coming in, mimicking the games they play and also not working quite as hard to solve all different kinds of problems because they are used to the ping and the whistle and the flash and the computer telling you, wrong, here's the right answer.
STEINER-ADAIRSo the capacity to pay attention, to be creative, to work through not knowing, to tolerate the frustration of learning, to wanting quick answers, Google search, Wikipedia versus reading for deep content, creating your own. These are all conversations that come up in schools everywhere I go.
REHMHere is a posting on Facebook from Alex who says, "Hearing my 13-year-old at 4:30 this morning playing his sniper game with other kids. As for punishment, he's off the internet 'til Friday." And finally, a Tweet from Mandy. "What are the right limits to set for children?"
STEINER-ADAIRLet me try and do these together. I really think that middle school-aged kids -- we know it's true for high school-aged kids too -- cannot control themselves by and large if they have screens in their bedroom. It's irresistible whether you're into drama with your friends texting, or whether there's a game. We know now -- we've seen in the last few years first of all a huge increase in the big disconnect between what parents think their kids are doing on screens and what kids are actually doing.
STEINER-ADAIRIf you let your children take a phone or a laptop or a mini or whatever into their bedroom at night, there are all kinds of risks. The biggest one is sleep. Kids are not getting enough sleep to begin with. They're getting even less sleep when they sleep with their phone on vibrate under their pillow. Now, there's a whole new trend that kids love to do, which is to game online. It's very social. The social part's very good. We see some really good benefits of kids playing games together online actually. But not at 4:00 in the morning. And this is sort of a fun new way of sneaking out, if you will, of the house at night and meeting your friends. And it's all in your bedroom.
REHMSure. Right, right.
STEINER-ADAIRSo I think it really makes sense for everybody -- parents too, by the way, equally at risk for getting up in the middle of the night, checking something. Suddenly it's 5:00 in the morning and they're grabby with, you know, work the next day. No screens in the bedroom. No screens in the bedroom. Let the bedroom be a sanctuary. Let's have some tech-free places. We also know that being on a screen a half hour before you try to go to sleep interferes with your melatonin production. So you can’t fall asleep.
REHMBecause it stimulates.
STEINER-ADAIRIt's a stimulant. Screens basically stimulate us. And we know that for many of us they're addictive in different ways. So the question is, we make jokes as adults, oh I need my fix. Oh my god, I'm so addicted to my new iPhone. Why do we hand something that we use the language of addiction with to a two-year-old, to a five-year-old, to an eight-year-old?
REHMSo from the young child's point of view, how early do you believe it is safe to allow a child to sort of play with an iPad for example?
STEINER-ADAIRI'm very concerned about the 35 plus percent of infants to two-year-olds who are being given screens to play with.
STEINER-ADAIRYeah, that's what some research is suggesting.
STEINER-ADAIRBecause we know actually, the brilliant baby brain, no apps or upgrades are required. Everything an infant needs comes from you and the grownups and the siblings around them, the family who loves them. And for three- to five-year-olds, an hour on a screen if you're really looking at what it is. If it's educational, if it's appropriate, if it's good content, that's okay. During elementary school years, during the school week, you know, every family has to have their own policies. Many families choose not to have screens at all to play computer screens. It's a weekend thing.
STEINER-ADAIRI think you really have to decide what kind of childhood you want your family to have.
REHMAnd how do you think that the computer use, the screen use is affecting the family in general?
STEINER-ADAIROnce you give your child the capacity to text other kids, once you give them the capacity to have their own phone where they can connect, you will lose very often the primacy of your connection with them. They'll get in the car -- this is something parents say all the time. They complain that they don't realize they've sort of allowed this to happen. And that's sort of what the whole thing's about, why I'm writing this book, it's because it's all seeping into us without us thinking.
STEINER-ADAIRSo you pick up carpool, the kids are in the back of your mommy van. And instead of them talking -- and you know that third ear we all have in the back of our head where we hear...
STEINER-ADAIR...they're texting each other on the seat next to them saying, oh my god, do you believe what happened in school today or so and so...
REHMThey're not talking.
STEINER-ADAIRThey're not talking. They're texting. And most of all they're doing it with each other.
REHMWhen I drove carpools when my children were young, it was fascinating to hear what they had to say to each other. Now that's lost.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd those conversations, those mini conversations create the fabric of knowing your child, being connected. And children -- one of the saddest things for me was to hear over and over and over again the stories from the four-year-old or the eight-year-old or the kids coming home from college about being excited to see mom, or hearing mom say, I can't wait 'til you come home from school. I'm going to pick you up at the airport. And they come home and they're in the car and mom takes a call. And it hurts their feelings.
REHMCatherine Steiner-Adair. Her new book is titled "The Big Disconnect" and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Richmond, Va. Hi there, Jeff. You're on the air.
JEFFHi, how are you?
JEFFI always find your program just fascinating. I seem to have to deal with a lot of these topics that you have.
REHMGood, good, I'm glad.
JEFFMy mother -- sorry, my wife is a preschool teacher. And one of her comments made frequently is when she's loading the kids into the car at the end of the day, the parents or whoever's picking up is on the cell phone and immediately puts down the DVD player for the kids to watch and never engages, as your guest was just saying, in talking about how the school day was. And the kids are so excited to tell them what happened, you know, at school, what their experience was. So just confirmation of kind of what seems to be going on nowadays.
REHMThanks for calling, Jeff. That screen in the back of the car has really become pervasive. So it's not just the iPhone or the iPad or whatever. Even when you're riding in the car there's something to distract you from that conversation.
STEINER-ADAIRI think it's a good idea for families to really give some thought to what are going to be the few spaces in your busy day that are tech free. And certainly taking your child to school and picking your child up and putting them to bed and sitting with them while they eat are times I would recommend we all resist.
REHMAll right. To Ann Arbor, Mich. Here's another view from Charles. You're on the air.
CHARLESHi, Diane. Thank you.
CHARLESSo I would just like to say that I am the son of a Microsoft employee and I have been all my life. And since I was born I was exposed to all sorts of technology. I've pretty much had free rein my whole life. And now without any sort of developmental issues or anything I'm going to a prestigious music school and getting a music engineering degree. And I think that the technology that I've been exposed to actually helped further, not only my education but also my interaction with my parents because I have -- to relate to my dad, etcetera.
CHARLESAnd it should also be mentioned that I have an autism spectrum disorder. And it just -- I'm not -- I don't really understand what your guest is talking about with the disconnect between technology and social life or technology and education.
STEINER-ADAIRGreat comment and great question. I think that when you have parents, as you have, who really know the best of technology and can bring it into your family in wonderful ways and use it to connect, that's fantastic. I'm not in any way suggesting that all technology is damaging. And the other thing that's very interesting is we know for people with nonverbal learning disabilities or on the spectrum that technology actually can help and enhance connection to people.
STEINER-ADAIRThe kinds of connections that kids talk about missing are more of the physical lap-sitting, read with me, play with me. We were going to go on vacation but then the whole time dad was on his computer at the beach. And it just doesn't feel the same on vacation when dad's on his computer at the beach because I wanted to kick the soccer ball with him. So it's not that it's all bad or always bad. And actually there are some ways in which technology helps us connect even more to our kids that we all enjoy.
REHMOf course. And therefore I think, Charles, what Catherine Steiner-Adair is talking about is balance. I'm glad that you are who you are. Good luck in your career. And we'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls.
REHMAnd welcome back. We'll go right to the phones to Chris in Syracuse, N.Y. You're on the air.
CHRISThanks for taking my call.
CHRISIt's funny as I sat waiting, I listened to all my topics come up, so I hope I don't -- I hope I don't replay anything.
REHMNo, I'm sure you won't.
CHRISYou just had spoken about balance and, to me, that's the key. I'm a single father of three boys. We have a computer in the house. It's in the family room, so everyone can see the screen. I don't have a TV in my bedroom. No one has a television in their bedrooms. I think it's more a case of if we see kids involved in things at a, if we want to say, unhealthy amount, it can be anything. I mean, if I had one of my sons who played soccer seven hours a day, that's unhealthy.
CHRISI think people get caught up on, well, it's the technology. And they're very quick to defend the technology and these devices and the benefits that these devices can bring. And they do. We enjoy things together as a family, but it's the balance. And I guess my question would be, if we want our children to have balance, don't we have to have balance as adults?
STEINER-ADAIRParents are the primary role model in their kids' lives. And when I interviewed over 1,000 kids, the thing that was -- one of the things that was so moving to me was the children's frustration with their parents and ability to disconnect. And, you know, the word hypocrite certainly comes up a lot once you get to middle school kids talking about their parents use with technology and not finding that balance and not being able to set clear limits. And there was a longing for parents to spend more time with their family. Kids talked about the good old days when families...
STEINER-ADAIRIt was really a surprise to me.
REHMHere is a message on Facebook from Brian. He says, "Your guest seems to be relying on her story anecdotes without acknowledging the obvious benefits that are more prevalent. Please ask her to discuss the empirical research she's conducted to inform her opinions."
STEINER-ADAIRThere are so many good things going on with kids and technology and education technology, and even families and technology. What I'm really concerned about is the psychological fallout and some of the disconnect between what parents see and what kids are doing and what kids are exposed to, and how we can then help them deal with these changes. I'm all about giving people tools to deal with things. So, for instance, about 78 percent, this is a recent study, found that parents say their kids media use isn't a source of family conflict. And 59 percent say they're not worried about it. And most parents say that they feel pretty confident they know what their kids are doing online.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd yet when we look at research on children, on teenagers, it's -- there's a pretty big disconnect between what kids are doing and what their parents know. By the time kids get to be 11, 12 or 13, 35 percent of them are really good at hiding what they do from their parents. There's been a 40 percent increase, going up now, in the past four years in the amount of lying teenagers do to their parents about what they actually are doing online. We know that while 91 percent of kids say their parents trust them to do what's right, 50 plus percent of teenagers say they hide what they do.
STEINER-ADAIRThe most common ways they hide what they do that is not what their parents think they are doing is to drop their screen, to create fake accounts, to do instant shutdown. And 32 percent of kids say they don't tell their parents what they're doing online and they would change their behavior if their parents actually did know what they were doing online.
REHMWhere does that research come from?
STEINER-ADAIRMcAfee study on safety and security, Northwestern study on teens' media usage, the Pew Charitable. There's a lot of good research out there. And that's sort of the tension between what we want to think and what, in many cases, you know, not that -- not all kids are getting into trouble, but we have to sort of open up to that reality that good kids are going to get into trouble and, most of all, how we react when they do get into trouble is going to make a huge difference...
STEINER-ADAIR...in our relationships with our kids as families.
REHMHere's an interesting email from Jasmine. She said, "My husband and I have a no screens policy for our six-year-old. But she recently used her tooth fairy money to buy a small calculator at Staples. Harmless in our view, but then we noticed if we let her take it into quiet time with her, there's zero chance of her napping. We were pretty floored to realize how stimulating this little basic screen is for her.
STEINER-ADAIRThere's something that we all get excited about when you push a number, something flashes up on the screen. And you can keep doing it and it's a quick feedback loop and that's part of the stimulating interaction. I think your six-year-old might also be mimicking and playing with her calculator because she knows it's a cool thing to do because kids, of course, mimic and play what their parents do when they see and when they know...
REHMAnd other children, sure.
STEINER-ADAIROther kids. Exactly right. Exactly right.
REHMAll right. To St. Louis, Mo. Hi there, Amy.
AMYHi. I'm so excited to talk to you.
REHMI'm glad to talk to you.
AMYI have a question for your guest. I'm a self-proclaimed video game geek.
AMYAnd my son and I have just started playing Mario Kart together. I'm very conversant with the rating system and content. I play on my own. But is there a difference or a mitigating factor in being able to play with your child? My son is six. And, you know, being able to share that and take lessons from the games and bring them into real life.
STEINER-ADAIRGreat question. You are really describing the right way to -- for families actually to enjoy video gaming together. It's a game that, you know, the content is relatively fine. You're talking, you're processing, you're sharing. You know, some of the good things that come out of kids playing games together is they do talk. They share the process. They share what unfortunately is called cheats, because it really means getting to the next level. But in the process of doing that, we see in certain games when kids play and families play together increasing social skills like sharing, collaborating, team building, et cetera. So it's not that it's all bad. And you're playing a game that's really, you know, relatively fine.
REHMSounds good to me, Amy. Let's go to Asheville, N.C. Hi, Caroline.
CAROLINEHi, Diane. I just wanted to thank you and the author so much for talking about such an important subject. I'm the CEO with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation and we run a program called Kids in Parks. And from our perspective, it's not just important to talk about the benefits of unplugging, we know that children are plugged in for about 7.6 hours a day. And if you think about how much free time we really have in a day, that's a lot of time to be plugged into something.
CAROLINESo we really focus on what they do when they unplug and the benefits of going outside and being in nature, reconnecting with your family. There are innate connections that we have to a natural experience. And we know that SAT scores will increase, childhood bullying decreases, mental and physical wellbeing increases from going outside.
REHMYou know, that's an interesting question. Do you see any connection between use of screen, texting and bullying?
STEINER-ADAIRWell, the values of some of the online social media networking sites are very different from the values that you probably have in your family. So in online tween and teen social networking, you know, we talk about being kind at home. Well, it's kind of cool to be cruel online. And at home we talk about think before you speak. And we know that life online is highly reactive. You push send before you think. And we know that, you know, most of us at home talk about take your time, think before you act. And the fast pace, instant action, instant quick response fire back of life online certainly isn't very helpful for kids.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd we also talk about at home, you know, be true, be honest, this is where you can be who you are. And unfortunately life online for so many kids is a struggle to create a person that is better than you are or a persona. And, you know, we're seeing a situation now with so many kids where it's not the fact that you are at a party or you are at a beach or you are at a restaurant enjoying it in the moment, sort of the be here now experience of the '60s that I grew up and to date myself here. It's that you go to a party. You take 200 pictures of it. You spend two hours later deciding which three photos you're going to post to describe the event.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd psychologically we talk about it as sort of an increase in an epidemic of self-objectification. It's not the experience that matters. It's the photo of the experience, which again is a disconnect from being in the moment.
REHMWe have several questions about Skype and to what extent you think that could be helpful, harmful or neutral.
STEINER-ADAIRI think Skype is one of the best ways for families to stay connected. And it's a wonderful thing especially when you have grandparents, you know, a state away, a continent away, to be able to talk, to read, to do puppet play. A wonderful little boy I know who I interviewed in the book, at three and a half, half his family is, you know, three continents away. And when he gets to go and visit his cousins and his relatives, it's an instant into the arms, no hesitation, because he has ongoing connection with them. This is divine. You know, this is just wonderful.
REHMIt sure is. I fully agree. Let's go now to Louisville, Ky. Kim, you're on the air.
KIMHi, thanks for having me.
KIMMy question was regarding how you felt about schools and their increased encouragement of personal electronic devices for children.
STEINER-ADAIRI think that schools are really doing their best to think about what's the really good educational application of increasing iPads, what's the right age to increase iPads. I've spoken with people in middle schools who feel like they move too quickly and then have had to step back. I think like everything else, as soon as you introduce any form of technology, both at home or at school, it's so important to have a responsible use contract and understanding and really talk about the way you're going to be able to use this tool; what's okay, what's not okay, what the consequences will be.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd it's very hard with certain kinds of technology to really control what kids are actually doing in a classroom. I can tell you a funny story about a wonderful head of a high school who had got some complaints from parents saying, kids are texting in class. And the head of the high school said, oh, no, that would never happen here and, besides, our teachers are so smart, they'd pick it up instantly. So he gathered together a bunch of student leaders and had a little focus group with them to think how can I help parents, you know, calm down and know that this isn't happening here.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd midway through the conversation, a girl raised her hand and said, excuse me, Mr. Lincoln, but I'm actually texting right now while you're talking and I don't think you've noticed. So you want me to show you how we do it all the time?
REHMWow. So they do.
STEINER-ADAIRSo these are challenges. Of course they do.
REHMExactly. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But more generally the back to nature question, Catherine, you feel very strongly about that.
STEINER-ADAIROne of the things that makes us uniquely human is our capacity to experience solitude and to have an inner life and a relationship with ourselves and hopefully a relationship in some way to nature and some sense of stewardship for sustainability. And technology can bring many wonderful things into our life, but the capacity to cultivate that kind of intimate relationship with yourself and to be alone, I think that's something families have to work harder to do. I think it's very easy to think that everything we need to be fully human now is available through screens, and that's a bit of a disconnect.
STEINER-ADAIRAnd my colleague, Michael Thompson, writes about technology is the new playground, the new outdoors. And yet it can't replace the ways we can come into contact with our self, our spiritual self, and the sense of ownership and stewardship really for the planet which we know we have to increasingly be very mindful of.
REHMAnd finally to Jacksonville, Fla. Hi, Mary.
MARYHi. Oh, it's such a pleasure to meet you, Diane, or actually talk with you.
REHMThank you. Good to talk with you.
MARYI wanted to just say that this subject actually touches several heart strings of mine. I'm one of ten brothers and sisters come from the same mother and father and grew up on very simple means. I am a middle-aged parent. Well, quite actually not there yet, but I have two small children, six and seven. And there's a disconnect with parents today and social media. And it's disheartening to see where our society is going. I am -- and the only reason why I feel like I have such strong roots is because I'm one of ten and grew up with very simple means. And I'm probably the only one of my friends who have the flip phone and uses it merely to communicate, to call, like today.
MARYBut I make it a purpose -- it's not, you know, to set the precedent that we don't have to all be a part of this facade of a life. And I will tell you I did join Facebook and I quickly disconnected from it because I found, like she stated, you were looking at pictures of families and this is the idea of family image, and mine doesn't quite fit that, or someone posts this or that. And there's just so many other things to take you away from your life, and we're talking about families and mothers, than focusing on what actually is right in front of you, why you became a parent, why you wanted to have children, What were the benefits, what were we going to teach them.
MARYWe're setting behaviors, patterns to teach our children that, oh, now we just -- if we don't want to deal with issues or things going on, we just go in our room, mommy gets on her phone, texted her friends or her 100,000 friends she created (unintelligible)
REHMAll right. Mary, well, I certainly appreciate your point of view. There are others with different points of view, but it does seem that what you're saying is balance is the key.
STEINER-ADAIRBalance is the key and stay connected in the ways that are fundamentally human.
REHMCatherine Steiner-Adair, her new book is titled "The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age." Clearly speaking to lots of folks. Thank you, Catherine.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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