As parents we are too often guilty of battling away in the ‘long grass’ of parenting without being able to see the bigger picture. Screens and mobile phones are one of those areas. There is a great deal of discussion and conflict about the place of screens and mobile phones in the lives of children and adolescents. There is no doubt they interfere with family life but we don’t really know how seriously we should take this issue. More often than not we just busk our way though it, making decisions based on how irritated we are by them.
What might be useful is to try to understand the bigger picture ? To do that we need to consider two very important facts.
1.Our children’s use of screens is increasing rapidly. Currently children aged 8-18 spend an average of 7 hours a day looking at screens.
2.The companies that make and sell the technology are becoming much more sophisticated at ‘capturing’ their attention. A good example of this is computer games. They now incorporate the systems used in fixed odds betting machines. These machines are the so called ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling. So if there is an ‘addictive’ quality to screen and phone use then it isn’t going to decrease anytime soon.
In my opinion we are witness to, what is in effect, an evolutionary shift in the nature of ‘relating’. Relating as I, and most reading this piece understand it, involves the pursuit of knowledge, friendship, intimacy driven by both curiosity and the need for closeness. This is being replaced by relating driven by the need for instant gratification, excitement and self affirmation. It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine a world where our technologies are more important than the people around us. Any parent who has tried taking a phone away from an angry teenager will testify to the truth of this.
So what you may ask? Evolution is evolution, we are changing all the time and so is the world around us. My point is this, relating in the pursuit of instant gratification and excitement is transitory, shallow and ultimately unsatisfying. It creates anxiety and a sense of emptiness. Furthermore this form of relating is not an add on, it’s instead of the way we understand relating. A good example of this is the decline of what is called ‘deep reading’ ( see another post). Child and teens don’t tend to read long and complex books anymore because it takes too long, is too much of a struggle and too frustrating.
However the absolutely central point is that this way of relating is incompatible with developing successful relationships with friends and partners in adulthood. And we know unequivocally that this capacity is at the heart of mental and physical wellbeing.
It may well be that the explosion of mental health issues we are seeing in our children and teens is part of the fall out from this evolutionary shift. It is perfectly possible that there may will be some sort of backlash but in the mean time we, as parents, need to step up to the plate on this issue, busking it will not do.