Working with families is very rewarding work. It is such a privilege to be invited into a family’s story and work with all members of that unit to bring about change and resolution. Often, the work is to allow each member to be heard. When we live so close to each other, we can assume we know the others’ lived experiences, which can cause tension as each member of the family feels unheard or misunderstood. So, giving each member a safe space to delineate their experience is often enough to affect change.
However, over recent years the reason families come to therapy began to shift. I noticed a striking similarity among many families seeking out therapy that I hadn’t seen before. This similarity was the genesis of my book, Parenting the Screenager.
I started to hear the same story about technology having a negative impact on familial relationships. It was obvious to me that technology was disrupting communication and intimacy.
I think all of us know that technology has interrupted our relational lives. Sitting in any restaurant watching couples on devices would illuminate that fact. However, what I was witnessing in families seemed more profound than an interruption. As a result, I went to 25 schools all over Ireland to see what was happening in the world of children and the family.
I was very surprised by what I heard, and the data I collected was shocking. The narratives I heard from teachers, children, and parents revealed a very serious development in the family system. Technology was having a corrosive impact on the family.
For my research, I spoke with students in the morning, and in the evening I spoke with parents to give them feedback from my conversations with their children.
One mother asked me: “Can you help me to get my family back?” She said her husband had introduced her children to gaming and she felt her family was falling apart.
Her story is not unusual. Everything we have heard over the last number of weeks from Facebook whistleblowers and the sinister claims that these companies know the deleterious impact social media has on our children and society has been alarming. But what are we going to do about it?
As parents, we need to be more actively involved in helping our children manage their device use. The fact that the WHO classified gaming as a new mental health condition in 2018 should have been a wake-up call to all of us caring for children. We can no longer be supine and passive while our children’s mental health is affected.
But what can we do? We all know games and devices aren’t good for our children. So do we stop them from being on them? I have children and I live in the real world. Technology is here to stay, but we must not give up our parental authority and simply allow our children to navigate this world free from our input.
Working in schools affords me further insight into this issue. I am with teenagers every day. They are very honest about their relationship with technology. In nearly all cases they are quite clear that technology has affected their levels of concentration.
A modern teenager finds it difficult to concentrate on tasks for longer than 20. When we look at their world, we can see why. Everything is multifaceted and abbreviated. No ads, no long prose, no letters, no long movies. Just quick, instantaneous bite-size information and communication. We have to help them to not be so lost in their devices while allowing for technology to be in their lives.
I am on my phone more than I would like and often feel that my sense of peace is affected by it. So, I decided to live without for the weekend. It was a challenge my wife set me. As I handed over my phone on Friday evening, I felt a little uncomfortable. However, I have to say it was such a relief not to have for two days. About an hour into our evening, my wife remarked how nice it was to be chatting without any intrusion.
I am passing on the challenge to you. Let me know how it goes and I will publish your experience.
I think we need to start to do more of that. We need to put boundaries on our relationship with our devices.
We should have a policy in the house for technology and we should ensure there are significant moments during the weekends where our children are free from technology and just being together. If the whistleblowers are right, We must protect our children and ourselves from these platforms and not give technology too much power in our lives.
I doubt any of us will say on our death beds, I should have spent more time on Instagram and got more followers, but I think we would all agree that we would say, I should have been more connected to those I love. Let’s start to push back against our devices. Try it next weekend, what's the worst that could happen?