Everyone with a kid under 18 should read this book

I reviewed a book for the AP that comes out this week called  “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” by Catherine Steiner-Adair with Teresa H. Barker. I choose the books I review and although this one was wonky for me, I was curious about the topic, and frankly, scared that I would find out how technology is wrecking my kids.

I was right to be afraid. And you should be too.

The book explains exactly what happens to the wiring in our kids’ brains when they use technology too much, especially at younger ages. This includes everything from letting your kids play games on your phone so they’ll be quiet through a meal…to endlessly i-Chatting or Skyping with friends.

The Big Disconnect cover/ carpoolcandy.com

Overexposure to technology can also adversely affect the development of social skills because kids literally aren’t learning how to have face-to-face conversations. They’re missing big concepts like social cues, learning how to infer emotion from facial expression, and having the courage to speak for themselves spontaneously.

The book is filled with compelling stories the author gathered in her years as a psychologist and advisor to schools. One is about how teen girls don’t like to argue in person or even over the phone because it doesn’t give them time to think of a good comeback, and makes them uncomfortable.

We don’t know yet what kind of world we’ll have when the first generation of texters grows up and can’t look each other in the eye or resolve conflicts in person.

Yikes.

My review is below. I usually just link out to my reviews, but this is a book you may not hear about, and it’s worth your time. You don’t need to read it cover to cover– although you may want to–  but skim it. The teen chapters are so interesting and provide discussion points and specific suggestions on how to talk to your kids about tech use, and other touchy subjects like sex and internet porn, social media, and handling online friendships.

I’m going to require my 13-year-old to read those chapters because some of the stories will scare him out of his Nike Elite socks.

cell phone ban graphic/ carpoolcandy.com

Finding family connections without a search engine                                                      ‘The Big Disconnect’ helps parents & kids navigate the digital world 

Most children can’t comprehend a world without the Internet and technology, so it’s up to parents to teach them how to use screen time wisely, even if it means stashing their own smart phones to do it.

The new book, “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” by Catherine Steiner-Adair with Teresa H. Barker, warns that our rampant use of technology is jeopardizing family connections vital to every child’s well-being.  

Steiner-Adair is a clinical psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School and has a practice working with children and families. In her extensive research, she cites hundreds of sources, and interviews more than 1,000 children (ages 4 to 18) and hundreds of parents and teachers from diverse backgrounds. It’s a lot of information to download, but the author presents it in an organized way, separating chapters by children’s ages, and including scores of real anecdotes to illustrate her points. The candid responses from children– particularly teens– about their feelings when faced with technology dilemmas are eye-opening.   

Steiner-Adair offers startling statistics on how much kids are using technology, and calls the fast takeover of tech a “revolution” that‘s subverted family life.  The book isn’t a condemnation of technology, and actually points outs some of its virtues. Steiner-Adair suggests video games can connect kids with peers and promote strategic thinking, video chats with relatives far away can reinforce family ties, and online friends can provide a healthy sense of belonging. 

But too often children are choosing technology over imaginative play, reading, and establishing real relationships through conversation and screen-free time. Many parents feel out of control when it comes to setting limits for tech use– especially when kids say they need it for homework. Steiner-Adair warns that parents who choose not to pay attention are doing a disservice to their children. She provides discussion points that require kids to commit to transparency and respect for the privilege of computer use. 

The book’s tone is not preachy or judgmental, but compassionate, suggesting we’re all in this together so let’s talk and find solutions. It’s a slow read and requires patience to digest the research, but the author shares fascinating true stories from kids, parents, and educators she’s helped through many technology-related crises.

Kids need time and attention to thrive, but too often a connection is lost because parents are “lured away by the siren call of the virtual world,” the author says. Children as young as toddlers see screens as rivals, but also learn to covet them like their parents. Steiner-Adair recommends parents set a good example by shutting down the iPad and TV at designated times, to demonstrate a family commitment to human communication.

The information on how overexposure to technology can affect a child’s brain and social skill development is alarming. But the last chapter of the book– which should be required reading for all parents—advocates moderation and includes many specific suggestions for ways to bond as a family without technology.

The Big Disconnect” offers terrific parenting advice that transcends technology, tackling issues like self-identity, navigating friendships, and sex. Its message is not exclusive to kids, but aimed at every family member: stay connected to people and nature as often as possible. As Steiner-Adair says, “Instead of plugging into ear buds, listen to yourself, find your inner GPS, Google search your own life experience, plug into your soul.” 

 

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