While driving the other night, I noticed a couple in the distance. They were taking a relaxing evening stroll. How great that this couple took the time and decided to enjoy each other's company, I thought to myself. Then as I drove by, I noticed that both of them were on their BlackBerries, texting away.
Today we live next to each other, but reside in our very own world.
There have been countless articles discussing the impact of cell phones and texting on our children's lives. Concerned parents attend workshops where we are taught how to monitor access to the internet and movies on our kids' phones. There are worries about compromising pictures that are sent, and the effect of constant texting.
I believe we need to be just as concerned about the family environment we're creating as we parents become addicted to our phones and BlackBerries.
How often do we pick up our children at school holding our phones in one hand and greeting our children with a distracted hello as we finish our conversation? "Just one more minute," we motion, with a cautionary finger pointed in the air.
If we are so fortunate to have children who want to tell us about their day, how can we blow it by texting and talking to those who are not even with us?
How many times do we go to a restaurant and believe that we're spending great family time? But if you look closely, you'll find parents and children alike with their eyes engrossed as they stare downward. Each individual is looking at their screen texting others while ignoring the family that sits right beside them.
Unknowingly, we have built invisible barriers that obstruct our connecting with the ones we are supposed to love most.
The New York Times recently reported on a study by Sherry Turkle who has been observing the effects of technology on parents and children for the past five years. She has found that feelings of jealousy, hurt and competition are common in many homes as children and spouses vie for attention that is being given to technology instead.
Children spoke about feeling hurt at mealtime, sports events or pickup time when they found parents more interested in their phones than in them.
"There's something so engrossing about the kind of interactions people do with screens that they wall out the world," she said. "I've talked to children who try to get their parents to stop texting while driving and they got resistance, ‘Oh, just one, just one more quick one, honey.' It's like ‘one more drink.'"
A parent I know was taking a summer hike with his wife and children in the mountains of Vermont. The scenery was breathtaking, the air delicious. The father's phone unbelievably had service despite the high altitude. Every few minutes his office was calling. He was walking while looking at his BlackBerry which constantly buzzed with another email message. Finally, his six-year-old daughter called out to him.
"Daddy," she said, "can I have your phone for a minute?"
"Why?" he asked.
"So that I could throw it down the mountain and have you be a part of the family."
He turned off his BlackBerry and decided to try and make up for lost time.
"Can We Talk?"
Talking to our spouses and children is more than having a conversation. We are demonstrating to our families that we are interested in their lives and care about their words. When we look at our wife instead of our BlackBerry, we are showing that we are not bored or apathetic to her. If a wife greets her husband as he comes through the door at the end of the day with a halfhearted welcome as she is busily finishing her latest text, what is a husband to feel?
If this is the effect on marriages and spousal relationships, imagine the effect that we are having on our children!
Young children need verbal interactions with parents in order to learn about the world and develop their vocabulary. They come to feel secure knowing that their parents are tuned in to their concerns and questions.
Older children need to feel that parents are engaged and attentive to their lives. This is the bedrock of family life, the glue that holds us all together. If children feel that we listen with half an ear, they will sadly go elsewhere for attention. They will come to perceive our connection to our ‘technological others' as an aloofness and lack of caring.
Love and affection is displayed not only through saying ‘I love you,' but through eye contact, attentiveness, and being able to disentangle oneself from outside distractions.
5 Questions for Every Home
Ask yourself these questions:
Husbands: Do you constantly check your cell/BlackBerry after you return from work at the expense of having an uninterrupted conversation with your family? Wives: Are you on the cell/BlackBerry when your spouse or children come home at the end of the day? Have you created an environment where spouses and children feel that you are an interested and active listener? Do you make eye contact with your spouse and children when they speak to you? Do you generate feelings of belongingness and attachment within your family?
Family is more important today than it has ever been. We have been witness to a breakdown of marriages and parent-child relationships at an alarming rate. Even families that remain intact have parents and children who have stopped speaking to each other as they are constantly engaged with those who are not present. We cannot afford to lose our connection with our children. We need to make our families our priority.
Slovie Jungreis-Wolff is a freelance writer, and a relationships and parenting instructor. She is the daughter of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, founder of Hineni International. Slovie has taught Hineni Young Couples and Parenting classes for more than 15 years. Her book, Raising A Child With Soul, is published by St. Martin's Press.