Life without digital technology seems almost unimaginable. In fact, our ability to connect through multiple mediums has never been easier -- or more powerful. Unfortunately, this omnipresent connectivity often fails to facilitate encounters that are meaningful and personally rewarding. In the same way that information does not equate to knowledge, and followers do not equate to friends, communication does equate to meaningful understanding.
If you are under the age of 20, digital communication is your first line of communication. You may even avoid a telephone conversation and save face-to-face discussions for the occasional social event. The term "digital native" was coined years ago to describe anyone who was raised in a digital, media-saturated world. There have been myriad studies that observe and compare the effects of technology use -- particularly on young people -- and the impact on their development. The bottom line is that people of all ages are beginning to question the consequences of regular -- and in some cases constant -- screen time and social media use. For anyone in their teens, the digital experience is like no other cohort before them. However, this digital transformation has an exceedingly dark side. Suicide rates have escalated for youths ages 15-24 by 30% since 2000 and many experts point to protracted screen time as the culprit. As well, new research published this month, found that teens who spend a lot of time on social media are more likely to be depressed, which also contributes to higher suicide rates.
Hitting even further home, a pilot study recently released from University of Michigan shared some insightful findings about young children and their parents' use of technology. The study's author, Dr. Jenny Radesky, reports that parents of young children pick up their phones approximately 70 times a day. This constant connect with their devices appears to be negatively impacting their relationship with their children and technology. This disengagement between parents and kids has been dubbed by social scientists as "technoference." Radesky and her team of experts offer the following advice for parents who want to change their relationships, both with their kids and with technology:
- When you're with your children, either turn off your phone or place it outside of the room so you can be more "present."
- Turn off notifications whenever possible, so you choose when it is appropriate to pick up your device.
- Do your best not to use your phone as a distraction when you are upset -- and don't let your kids use their device as an escape.
Let's face it, most people, regardless of their age, rely heavily on technology. We feel more comfortable communicating in short texts rather than face-to-face conversations. But we all need to work on having difficult conversations, in real life, in real time. Children, in particular need to learn these vital skills so that they can balance technology with what's really important. It's not an easy road for any parent or caregiver but it's important to realize that the real enemy we must confront is ourselves. When we do engage in face-to-face communication, many of us lack the tools required to tackle the difficult subject and to engage the difficult person. Technology has given us many gifts but robbed us of the art of conversation.
There is no easy answer to the social problems we are facing but if we work on overcoming them, one relationship at a time, we are heading in the right direction. When we engage in the inner work of reflection and the outer work of skill development we will be better able to communicate -- at home and at work -- and realize lasting happiness with the most important people in our lives.