Alone Together

Source: via Rachel on Pinterest


Have you ever had your laptop slammed shut by a toddler?

My son did that to me a while back. I was writing an email to a friend and he came over and flipped the screen down. He wanted me to come and play with him and it was the easiest way for him to get my attention.

It worked.

I was thinking about the incident when I listened to this NPR interview with Sherry Turkel, the author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Text message, email, Facebook and a constant feed of information from electronics is changing the way we parent, the way we operate as families and how our children develop. Much of it to our and their detriment.

What’s a parent to do with all of this growing data about the perils of technology?

Sherry has some good suggestions in her interview. Have a basket in the living room and dining room to hold electronic devices and designate screen and cell phone free hours. Make sure the dinner hour is one of them so you can have better face to face discussion.

That’s another thing Turkel has identified from her research: people are avoiding face to face communication because they feel they don’t have control over it. Unlike email and text message where there is time to compose an answer, an in-person discussion requires immediate responses. We’re losing the art of conversation and the learning from a hot discussion, because of email and text messaging.

Another change in how we parent now is that children are in constant communication with their parents.

Children are getting these phones earlier and earlier. These are years when children need to develop this capacity for solitude, this capacity to feel complete playing alone. If you don’t have a capacity for solitude, you will always be lonely, and my concern is that the tethered child never really feels that sense that they are sort of OK unto themselves; and I talk to college students who’ve grown up with the habit of being in touch with their parents five, 10, 15 times a day. And it’s no longer Huckleberry Finn as a model of adolescence, you know, sailing down the Mississippi alone — we’ve developed a model of adolescence and childhood where we sail down the Mississippi together with our families in tow. – Sherry Turkel

More for me to think about as Henry grows up.

While Sherry discussed her research on how technology is affecting how we parent, something I think about a lot, she also talked about how technology is affecting youth

… this sense of the Facebook identity as something that follows you all your life is something that many adolescents feel is a burden.     – Sherry Turkel

I’ve heard the term digital identity used before and my first reaction was, honestly, an eye roll.

Of course, it was writers and social media types talking about their own digital identity and branding and what not. The concept of a digital identity for my child, one that I was already creating and that they would take on as an adolescent (or younger) hadn’t been at the front of my mind.

But I’m sure thinking about it now.

If Facebook and digital photography had been around during my high school and college years I’d have a different digital identity.

They weren’t crazy years but I’m glad that my growing up wasn’t documented online. I experimented with outfits and Sun-In and music in the relative privacy of my circle of friends. And when I went away to university I was easily able to leave my high school angst behind. Something Turkel says teens can’t do these days. As one teen told Turkel, Facebook doesn’t allow them to ever have a fresh start.

Ameena is a blogger that recently posted about why she hasn’t shared a photo of her daughter’s face online. After she published this post several families that shared stories of their out of country pregnancy and birth experiences on Ameena’s blog have since asked her to change or take down the accompanying photo of their child from their story post.

I’m thinking more about Henry’s digital identity after reading these pieces.

Recently I decided not to share some things about his development and milestones when I thought about having it cached away here on a blog, waiting for him or his friends to discover it years from now. I’m also ruminating on Ameena’s post and thinking about only publicly sharing photos of him that don’t show his face. While I think the photos I have shared of him are things to be proud of – he’s a healthy child that smiles a lot – I think more will be kept private until he is ready to share them himself.

Finding more role models for technology lite family living.

I was searching for compostable and not too crafty decorations for our first live Christmas tree last week and came across Unplug Your Kids. This Montessori teacher and mother of three has been raising her children tech and screen lite from the beginning (they’re now 12, 10 and 6).

It was refreshing to read about how her children don’t mind, or ask why, they don’t have cable television or video games to play. The family has one computer in a high traffic area and the children are supervised whenever they use it. More about their model of unplugged kids here.

Unplug Your Kids is in a quiet season right now, the author has taken a new job and is pursuing more education, but there are a lot of great posts in the archive.

So, it can be done.

I think technology is wonderful.

The ability to see and hear family face to face while we are thousands of miles apart still excites me. When my husband can send me a text message telling me where he and my son have ended up on their morning adventure so that I can meet up with them, I am thankful. And I am grateful, so very grateful, for blogs. We wouldn’t have made so many life changes like paying off a huge amount of debt or getting rid of our car, if I hadn’t been encouraged and guided by the advice of writers I found online.

But as Uncle Ben told Spiderman, with greatness comes great responsibility. I am trying to use the greatness of technology wisely.

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  • Thanks for the great articles. Love reading your blog + this topic is especially important to take care about. Will check the screen-free family blog.

  • I have to recommend the new picture book HELLO! HELLO! by Matthew Cordell. It’s not about identity online, but about how much time we spend online, and how we’re always nose-deep in a screen, and forgetting to connect with each other and the world around us. It’s a beautifully illustrated book, and beautifully designed, and I appreciate that the message is not at all messagey in this book, but is delivered with grace and whimsy. My kids love it, and there’s one illustration, of the main character girl saying, “Hello!” to her mother, and her mother, at the computer, holding up one finger (“one sec!”) that made my stomach drop. That’s ME. Time to turn the computer off, grab my kids, and head outside!

    • Looking up HELLO! HELLO! now – thanks for the recommendation.
      And yes, when I got the laptop slam from my son it made my stomach drop too. While he has to understand I can’t always leave what I am doing to play with him – I also have to put off computer tasks that can be done at another time when he doesn’t want my attention. Funny how I am all too happy to go and play or read a book with him when I’m in the middle of a dreaded household task…

      • So true!
        I have changed our online presence about a year ago when my son was 3. The next thing now is to persuade others or control what others post (pics our family is in, taken by them..)
        I think, at some point all of us will have a digital presence want it or not.

  • Hi R!!!

    Big G and I were talking the other day about the number of parents at the park who are constantly staring at a cell phone screen, texting away while the kid yells “Mum, Mum!”. There the kid sits on a unmoving swing waiting oh so patiently for their caregiver to notice them. I notice it often Kids shivering away in a stalled buggy while a parent is looking at their cell. I believe we have responsibility to our kids who are growing up in a technological world to show them how we as parents can be mindful and pay attention.

    Be well!

  • I don’t have small children (my youngest is graduating from HS this year), but I have strong feelings about how the social experience is SO different in just 1 generation. When I was in HS, there were 2 means of communication: face to face and via telephone (a telephone shared by the whole family, and mostly in public areas — especially before cordless phones). Now kids can communicate from anywhere, anytime and have no “down time” from seeing who is talking to and/or about who. The obstacles (some very healthy) for communication are completely gone. While I can recall being too scared to call a “boy’s house”, now girls send photos directly to their phones.

    Being a parent of a teen has always been challenging, but I think the “digital age” has created an entire set of concerns that are even more challenging. And while “cliques” has often had a negative connotation, I think the social media has blurred a lot of those lines between “cliques” and kids get desensitized to things by proxy, which can also be scary.

    I realize this is going beyond the “digital identity” that you might create for your child, but once they have access, pre-teens and teens do it every minute of the day.

  • I have just finished reading Turkle’s book. Although I have kept myself free from Facebook, Twitter and only recently got an iphone, I was convicted. It has really made me stop and think about how technology will affect my girls when they are older. I was shocked by some of the testimonies included in the book.

    Thanks for your thoughts in this post…gives me even more to think about.

  • I love Rachel how you don’t just present how minimalis/simple living is done,butalso guide us through the experience behind. Thank you.

  • Thank you so much for this post. I will seek out this book at our local library. I have been thinking a lot about how plugged in we are as a family, and really feeling the call to move away from that type of life. I really want to be more intentional about the time I spend online (the biggest time suck for me), or the time I allow my children to spend in front of the television. We are planning on cancelling our cable but can’t afford to buy out of our contract just yet (crazy) and I hope that will help as well. I really feel like I need to spend more face time with my loved ones.

  • This post really has me thinking about my boys’ privacy.

    Thanks for sharing about Unplug Your Kids, I love Montessori blogs and I’m looking forward to reading through it!

  • I only use my laptop briefly to look things up (like the hours of the zoo!) if my boy is around, so I’ve never had the laptop slam. Having said that, I don’t think it really is a terrible thing for our littles to see us using our computers responsibly., or, for that matter, to be asked to wait while I finish what I’m doing. My little guy is more likely to be ignored by his mother when I’ve got my nose in a book, and he’s certainly slammed a few of those! But the literacy people tell me I’m modeling the reading habit, and my boy is learning to occupy himself, so maybe it’s all good.

    The key, methinks, is modeling the behavior we hope to see. Which in my book means engaging with the real world more than I do with the virtual one.

    But I wholeheartedly agree with Ameena’s stance against posting photos of our kids online. I read an article about a columnist (can’t remember who) who shared a thoughtful story about an episode of his son’s particularly bratty behavior — with his name — and triggered a flame war in the comments. His son, now a teen, googled himself. Guess what the entire first page of results were? I can’t imagine how that must have felt to either of them. I will not do that. I do share tiny snippets from our days together on my page, but never my son’s name and never never never an identifiable photo. I extend the same respect to my husband, and to my friends. I consider myself fortunate that so far, anyway, the courtesy is returned.

  • That doesn’t really surprise me about kids and parents being constantly connected. My own daughter is 7, and does not yet have a cell phone or iPod or anything like that. However, I know many 9, 10 and 11-year-olds at her school do. And often, it’s not the kids who are agitating for them, it’s the parents who want their children to be reachable. I have very mixed feelings about this, because as a parent I quite honestly see the appeal. If I don’t have to freak out about where my kid is once she’s older and navigating the world on her own, that’s a huge plus. But, on the other hand, I’d like her to develop independence and I don’t want to be a helicopter parent.

    I don’t see a lot of easy answers, especially as someone who quite enjoys my own technology.

    • Ok but … I have a cell phone. It can be used for: phone calls, and texts. It does not even take pictures (which I’ll admit I occasionally find means I miss a good one I’d like to snap), never mind connect to the internet. It’s possible to get technology that allows you to communicate with (reach) your kid, without giving them complete access to the internet.

      On the other hand, they’ll probably just borrow their friend’s Ipad, so this approach may not achieve much!

  • Thanks for writing about this, great thought-provoking post. I suspect that as our kids get older we’ll have less control over what about them is online, e.g., friends, family, and acquaintances will post pics. Still, good stuff to think about. One thing I like about the family camping trips we take is that they disconnect us from the internet. The first winter trip we took, the first campground we stayed in (we are in a camping trailer, so hardly roughing it) actually had some wifi. It was quite a cold time, and at the second campground where we were no longer “connected,” I was puzzling (seriously!) over how we could get a weather forecast. Finally it hit me: buy a local newpaper. Duh … !

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