When we let our iPads take the wheel, we may be endangering not only the intellectual potential, but human capacity of our children. In a candid and insightful interview with  Forty Carrots Parenting Center’s community speaker Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, we can begin to recognize just how powerful the grip of technology can be on shaping the personal lives, perceptions and emotional experiences of our childrens’ formative years. She describes our dependence on our devices as addictive, created a very real threat of robbing families of meaningful connectivity and togetherness.

What does it mean to connect with our children? We are seeing the first generation of tweens and teens that prefer texting to talking on the telephone. While it’s amazing to be able to text 24/7 no matter where you are, when you text you eliminate one of the most essential forms of human communication and that is our capacity to hear tone of voice. It is a very different quality of connection when you have written words versus spoken words. This is particularly challenging when you are upset or angry with somebody and you send a text. We know neurologically the human brain becomes much more reactive with texting so that leads to misunderstandings. The other big difference when you text is you eliminate a very important form of human intelligence–the capacity to read social cues, the capacity to see the impact of your words and your tone of voice on the person you are speaking with. So we are beginning to see certain declines in empathy with kids that spend tons of time only communicating through screens and also certain qualities of attention to other people - eye contact, being in the conversation, actively listening at a slow place­– teachers are very concerned about this.

Technology is omnipresent­– how do we utlilize it in a more sustainable way? In my talk I will go through seven critical times in a day that are really important for parents to put down their devices and commit to connecting with their children and being fully available to them. Right now we are psychologically dependent on our devices. Grown ups take them into the bathroom with them like a security blanket. I think eventually we are going to learn how to outsmart our smart phones and be much more thoughtful about how we use them, but right now we are in such an early stage of adaptation and we are developing habits of mind and habits of behavior that we really need to push the pause button on. There are social networking sites that are developed to bring out the worst parts of adolescents developing self, they are monetizing teenagers’ psychological vulnerabilities, which is kind of serious.

At what point does it become an addiction? It’s a continuum of course, The signs of technology or internet addiction are very similar to the signs of substance abuse addiction. You start lying. You sneak it and say “I am going to the golf course” when you are sitting in your car doing fan football. You start avoiding social situations and prefer being on your screen and doing whatever it is you are doing. You begin feeling out of control, like you are preoccupied thinking about the device and craving it, wanting more of it. Then having very serious mood disregulation­–cranky and angry when you take it away. Parents often say things like “I feel like I am taking heroine away from an addict just to get my child to stop playing Minecraft.

You had an example in your book about a girl who was disconnected from her emotions? A lot of kids feel like they don’t know how they feel, or what their emotions are until they are texting with friends. It has become their vehicle of self discovery. So I had her start texting herself. It is sort of a 2.0 version of writing in a journal, only it’s not private of course but it’s really fascinating for her to. I used these words, “rewire her own connections” with the idea that she is a person and it is worth her time. We never want symbolic smily faces to replaces a real hug.

ABOUT CATHERINE STEINER-ADAIR, EdD Dr. Catherine Steiner- Adair is an internationally recognized clinical psychologist, school consultant, and author. In her book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (Harper), Dr. Steiner-Adair examines ways in which technology and media are putting our children at risk at every stage of development, while challenging what it means to be a family. Easy access to the Internet and social media has erased the boundaries that protect children from the unsavory aspects of adult life, and Steiner-Adair helps her audiences to understand the psychological risks and fallout that children are experiencing, often with their parents unaware.

Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair is the keynote speaker at the Forty Carrots Free Community Speak Event at The Hyatt Regency, Sarasota this September 30, 2015 from 7-8:30pm. Limited seating, reserve at fortycarrots.org; 941-365-7716.