The Head's Tales: Technology and Social Development

Last Tuesday evening, St. Margaret’s hosted an Information Session entitled Disconnect and Reconnect.  The presenter, Cris Rowan – occupational therapist and renowned speaker on digital habits and social development – spoke to a highly engaged parent community regarding the impact of technology on the lives of our children – particularly screen use and our dependency on needing to always be “connected or entertained.” She talked about the importance of reconnecting with nature and ensuring that we focus as much on healthy living as being “permanently attached” to our electronic devices.  This is a topic that certainly resonates with our families and is also one that I posted in my Head’s Tales in 2012-11-02 entitled:  Connected but Disconnected.

Although no one would question the ability of technology to open up worlds or horizons that for many of us can only be imagined or attained in a virtual forum, we also need to be mindful of how technology can also be a big distractor.  On a positive note, technology provides immediate access to information, broadens global connections, and, finally, makes life a little easier and more efficient in our day-to-day activities. Unfortunately, if we rely too much on technology as our main avenue for communication and engagement, it has the potential to create a barrier to real personal connections and, if introduced too early in a child’s life, can negatively impact the development of social skills. It can also have an adverse effect on our physical health if we spend the majority of our time engaged with our electronic devices at the expense of exercise, outdoor play, and just enjoying our natural surroundings.   There is a direct correlation between a sedentary lifestyle starting in our early years and reduced longevity and quality of life in our more senior years.

Positive social skills – social confidence, engagement, interaction, perception skills (nuances, tone, eye contact, body language) and self-regulation – are best developed in an environment that allows us to react, respond, and actively change. Relying on technology to capture our attention rather than making connections that are purposeful, prevents us from appreciating the experiences that are directly in front of us. Technology can stifle our ability to find our own personal ways to occupy time. Being bored can be a great thing for it gives us space to imagine and be creative.  Sometimes the best ideas come from just day dreaming! Technology also has the potential to make us sacrifice genuine conversation, trade personal connections for online personas, and prevent us from enjoying what surrounds us – nature, our environment, family members, and those friends who truly care about our well-being.

Just as we teach our children how to ride a bike, we need to teach them how to navigate the internet and make the right choices. We want them to enrich their lives through the use of technology, rather than to substitute a virtual world for the physical world.  It’s about being aware and mindful of how and where we spend most of our time. My final thought on this topic highlights the irony of the fact that reliance on electronic devices often fosters dependence rather than nurturing independence.  It is imperative that we model and practice the art of being together in the moment (attentive and alert to what is happening around us). We should harness technology to enhance our lives, rather than let it take away that feeling of truly being connected to other human beings. With summer looming and many of our students facing an abundance of free time, unencumbered by the routines of school life, it is essential that we help our girls find ways to use their imagination to entertain themselves. Summer is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to restore our sense of equilibrium by balancing action/active play WITH reflective, and screenless, contemplation. 

On a positive note, smart phones and social media expand our universe.
We can connect with others or collect information easier and faster than ever.

        - Daniel Goleman

A fixation with connecting with ‘friends’ online comes with the risk of
disconnection with friends waiting for you to be present in the offline world.

       - Craig Hodges


Resources: 13, Right Now: The Screen Age

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